Evanston aldermen labored four hours today to cut perhaps $250,000 from the city’s $94 million proposed general fund budget.

In the process they rejected proposals by the city manager to eliminate the elm tree injection program and close the branch libraries.

The elm tree program was saved after city staff recalculated its cost and concluded that the net expense, after adjusting for the cost of removing and replacing diseased trees is closer to $100,000 per year than the $300,000 per year figure originally cited.

The aldermen offered no reason for their vote to keep the branch libraries, at an estimate annual cost of about $350,000.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, won approval from her colleagues to eliminate a vacant youth services worker position in the police department, saving $70,000, after Police Chief Richard Eddington said he’d rather lose that position than another vacant slot for a victim’s advocate.

Both are civilian positions, and Eddington said the victim’s advocate takes on work that uniformed police officers otherwise would have to do at a higher cost.

Holmes also won approval of a suggestion to consolidate two supervisory positions at the health department into one lower-level position, a move for which staff did not immediately have an estimate of the cost savings.

And at Holmes’ suggestion the aldermen cut $12,000 in proposed increases to their own budget for next year — holding their training and travel, food and membership dues expenses to this year’s level.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, persuaded the aldermen to cut funding for grants the mental health board makes to non-profit groups by 10 percent, for a savings of $85,900.

She also questioned why the city spends $142,000 on staff costs to give away roughly $845,000 to the non-profits.

“Charitable groups I’m associated with would spend nowhere near this percentage to oversee grants,” she said.

Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, won approval to cut $18,130 in part-time positions in the recreation department.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, failed to win support for a proposal to eliminate the hiring of a plan reviewer for the fire department.

The aldermen rejected suggestions by Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, that they explore the possibility of postponing some of the fire and police pension payments driving this year’s tax increase in hopes they could be covered as existing capital debt is paid off over the next decade or two.

In rejecting that idea Tisdahl said that deferring pension payments in past years was what had gotten the council into its current budget crisis and Rainey said the city would certainly need to fund other capital projects in the future which would mean the pool of money Jean-Baptiste was talking about would never actually be available.

With the addition of today’s changes, the aldermen have reduced the proposed property tax levy increase from 15.15 percent to just under 10 percent.

The aldermen scheduled another budget meeting for 9 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 23. They have to adopt a final budget by the end of the month.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Branch Libraries
    It is time for Evanston to make some hard choices. It is time to close the branch libraries. They are a luxury we can no longer afford. There are very few residents who live near either branch who are unable to get to the main library. Doesn’t the city own the building that houses the North Branch? Surely that could be sold. This debate has gone on long enough – let’s stop throwing resources at an obsolete service.

    1. Enough already – close the branches!
      As a parent of three small children I say close the branches! Especially with the newly renovated main library. I think the aldermen should visit these branches and see who exactly is using them … not the underprivileged kids they say they are preserving them for, that’s for sure.

  2. So all of a sudden the cost
    So all of a sudden the cost to save the trees miraculously goes down $200,000? Quite an oversight! Congrats to the Police department for contributing to the cuts by $70,000 when it’s their people that are deserving of the cuts to assist in the pension crisis to begin with. They should not have to cut when the city’s oversights have cost them so much more. . .

  3. Bookmobiles: Old ideas are new again
    After reviewing the history of the EPL, I noticed that the bookmobile program was discontinued in 1997. Wouldn’t its resurrection be a viable option to provide library service to the underserved portions of our community in lieu of the branch libraries?

    It seems to me that much of the furor over the branches comes down to arguments over “serving the needs of the community.” It seems to me that the portion of our community that most needs the services of the library is also that most challenged by transportation issues–even a “local” branch library is too far away for many of our citizens.

    Why not shut down both branches and set up a weekly schedule of bookmobile stops? Especially over the summer months, when the city already has a free lunch program–why not offer library services along with it? Create a schedule of day-long stops at various points across the city–James Park/Levy Center; Elks Park; Fleetwood-Jordain; The Robert Crown Center; The Presbyterian Homes/Three Crowns; The Farmer’s Market, etc.

    A weekly schedule would allow patrons to request books for the next visit to their neighborhood. The bookmobile would not even have to be self-propelled: it could be a trailer set up at the various stops, much like the Fire Safety House trailer. It would need to be handicap accessible, have several wireless computer terminals, and house a small collection of books, movies, and music. Perhaps a children’s audiobook storytime could be part of the bookmobile’s “programming.”

    The stops, honestly, should be stacked in favor of the poorer parts of our city. Let’s face it, making a trip to the Main Library (naming rights, anyone?) is not a hardship for Evanston’s middle class families.

    Who’s with me?

    Jason Hays

    1. Bookmobile – YES
      Jason, funny you should suggest that, since that was in my mind too when I suggested closing both branches. It has to be more cost effective than the two branches. It certainly is a way to reach out to the underserved areas of Evanston.

      My advice – take it up with the new library director (she starts on Monday).

  4. Branch Libraries
    The libraries serve EVERYONE in this community. The library provides programs for ALL children. No scholarships needed. The library offers the one place where all families are always welcome, the experience for the kids is always great.
    There is a large group of “middle class” families who can’t pay all the program fees, pre-school tuition, etc. and the library fills the void for them. I encourage people to dig deeper than the libraries. There are many many programs in this city that serve a few. Some are good, some are bad and some are ineffectual. Finding all of them, then identifying their funding sources is an enormous undertaking. I have tried to look and many of them make it very difficult to determine how much of their support comes from the city. We live in a community that wants to be inclusive and achieve the best outcomes for all people of all incomes. However, it appears that we do not hold these groups accountable for outcomes. Evanston should be an exceptional city, with all the help it provides, we should not be the city of problems but a city where people are actually helped and people’s lives are changed because our local gov’t cares. I don’t see that. I see a middle class struggling to pay the full price of living in this city – a middle class that has to foot the bill for all these programs and then struggles or is unable to pay all the fees, tuitions, etc. for their own family to participate in all that this community offers. Why haven’t these programs helped? I believe the citizens of this community do want to help, but they don’t want their money wasted either. We need to not only ask for cuts but for accountability – groups need to earn their city funding in verifiable ways.

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