The number of employees on Evanston’s city payroll has varied substantially over the last four decades.

City staff over time 

As aldermen, faced with a pension funding crisis, struggle to determine whether the community can get by with fewer city workers, a look at employee levels over the years may shed some light on their options.

In 1991, Chamber of Commerce members concerned about rising city budgets published a booklet they called "The Evanston DIET." The DIET, an acronym for Defeat the Increase in Evanston Taxes, reported that in its 1972-73 fiscal year the city got by with 767 employees.

By 1991 the city workforce had increased 11 percent, to 854 full-time-equivalent employees, even though the city’s population had declined by 9 percent
The chamber complained that when comparing functions performed by all three communities, Evanston had 150 to 200 more workers than similar suburbs like Arlington Heights or Skokie.

(To compare comparable functions, library and parks employees must be excluded from the Evanston employee count, because in Skokie and Arlington Heights those services are performed by separate taxing districts.)

By a few years after the chamber report, the city workforce had been cut a bit —  to 822 in fiscal year 1997-98, but it has remained above that level ever since, peaking in the 2006-07 fiscal year at 884.

For the comparable functions performed by all three municipalities these days, Evanston has nearly 700 full-time-equivalent employees, compared to about 420 in Arlington Heights and 480 in Skokie. That’s a difference averaging more than 50 percent — a much bigger spread than in 1991.

(Copies of The DIET are available at the Evanston Public Library. It can also be downloaded as a 4.5MB .pdf file here.)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

4 replies on “City payroll not always so full”

  1. Do you remember?
    What was life like in Evanston in the early 1970s when the city had far fewer employees?
    I left town in 1972 after growing up here — and I thought city services were pretty good back then. But I was a mere callow youth and perhaps I didn’t know what was missing.
    For those of you who trace their uninterrupted residency here back that far: How would you compare city services then and now?
    — Bill

    1. Do you remember?
      Imagine the number of ordinances that have been passed since 1970. Each one has a price tag. Each one takes time, staff and money to regulate/enforce.

  2. Bar Chart
    Bill –

    You ask ” What was life like in Evanston in the early 1970s when the city had far fewer employees? ”

    Well, really, I think that your bar chart is a little deceptive, starting at 700 like it does. It makes a 15% increase ( 760 to 860) look like a doubling.

    I am all for smaller government. Let’s close that Central St. library. But we need to put things in proper perspective.


    1. How are you at Excel?
      Hi Zachary,
      Thanks for raising that issue.
      Charts with a baseline other than zero are very commonly used in news stories, because they let people see the variations more clearly without taking up too much space. A chart with a zero baseline would have needed to be more than three times as tall to make the year-to-year differences as visible.
      And as long as the scale is labeled, which it was here, I don’t think any careful reader is led astray about the meaning.
      But the other reason the chart had that form is that it’s what Excel generated for me automatically and I couldn’t find a control to adjust the baseline value.
      If you know how to overcome that default behavior, why don’t you share it?
      — Bill

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