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Branch libraries, elm trees saved

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.

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