Recap: City Council budget meeting

Here's a recap of our live coverage of this morning's Evanston City Council special meeting on the 2019 city budget and closing its $7.4 million gap between revenue and expenses.

A packet with information on the agenda items is available online.

The meeting was called to order at 9:02 a.m.

Session starts with a presentation on the budget from City Treasurer Hitesh Desi.

More details about the budget are available here.

The tax levies being introduced this morning include

  • $30.7 million for general operations, pensions and general assitance, up from $30.1 million this year
  • $6.9 million for the library
  • $836,735 for the solid waste fund.
  • $535,714 for the Downtown Evanston special service area
  • $225,510 for the Main-Dempster Mile special service area.

Public comment

First two speakers complain about cuts to arts funding.

Kimkea Harris, attorney for the Fraternal Order of Police, objects to proposed cuts in police staffing.

Don Ziegler of health advisory committee objects to cuts in health department. Says cuts would put state grants at risk. Suggests eliminating only two of the five positions scheduled for elimination.

Pat Burns asks what expectations are for deficits in future years?

Delores Holmes, retired alderman, says "glad I'm not sitting on that side of the desk."  Says Evanston has the oldest helath department in Illinois. Urges retention of vital records service. Says gotta stop attacking each other -- have to be civil on both sides of the dais.

Billy Lynch, president of firefighters union local, objects to planned cuts in fire staffing.

Says committed to finding budget solutions -- but can't cut firefighters.

Suggests city management doesn't know what it's talking about.

Says "people will die" if firefighters are laid off.

Jerome Summers, former District 65 board member, says he's done budget before. Says budgets tell who we are as a community. Says he sees the poor, sick, weak, young, old, and mentally ill in trouble with the city's new budget.

Ray Freedman says doesn't understand why can't balance the budget. Says are pitting neighbor against neighbor when cut employees and cut programs to help the least secure. Claims there's no need to cut programs and employees or raise taxes and fees. Says spending is out of control.

Michele Hays, concerned that budget is becoming "an emotional mess" rather than a "data driven process."

Public hearing on budget adjourned.

"Truth in taxation" hearing on property tax levy opened.

Junad Rizki claims there's no truth in the budget.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward says information is readily available on the city website about the budget issues. Says city share of several state taxes has not gone up as fast as costs. And over 10 years public safety pension costs have doubled.

Truth in taxation hearing adjourned.

City Clerk Devon Reid notes that early voting is underway today at the Civic Center and continues Sunday and through next week.

Says over 700 people voted yesterday. Has been over 600 each other day this week. Total 3,307 ... in 3rd place countywide.

Special orders of business

The five tax levies mentioned above are all approved for introduction. Final vote to come at a future meeting.

SP 6 - Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Workshop

Pat Efiom does "equity lens" budget presentation.

Says did additional outreach to survey 507 minority residents after the first budget survey came up short on minority input.

Says don't have true understanding of what equity is.

Says people will be affected across all demographics by cuts to health department, police department, fire department, 

Says has heard people say that closing a fire station in another ward would be more equitable -- but don't have clear indication of what would be equitable.

Says arts advocates consider arts to be very equitable -- used for healing, arts therapy, beautification

Says several poeple concerned about closing of vital records -- will impact funeral services in black community, she says.

Says other than the racial and gender breakdown of employees to be laid off -- don't have sufficient information to determine the impact on equity.

Says her conclusion is that the budget is equitable .. because have process and have come up with best have given the information available. But because of lack of information it's also not equitable. So many differences in various people's perceptions of equity.

If want to get to equity have to stop handing out bricks of cheese (as federal government did decades ago). Need to focus more on long term solutions than something just for the moment.

Says African-American population is one of the most vulnerable in Evanston, but when racialize every incident that comes before us is a disservice to the entire community.

Says equity is a process, not an answer.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz asks what do "we" do better in process? What more data do we need to get better answers?

Says equity committee is working on an equity framework. Hope to have that to Council by Dec. 20 meeting. Will set equity goals.

Say Council has been very supportive. Says also have to fund the equity process.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, wants to know department wide who's being cut the most.

Says curious to know more about the city's legal expenses, thinks they're high. Also wants to look at capital expenses. Also may need to sell some assets.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, says she wants residents of her ward to have the same quality of life and access to services as everybody else in Evanston.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, asks whether city knows who is making use of services the city provides -- for example the vital records office?

Efiom says need to know how the data intersects across departments.

Bobkiewicz says he's jumping with joy to hear the Council talking about data. References the Star Communities program. Says have been collecting 400 pieces of data for the last four years for that program.

Says if want more serious discussions about how to use data to evaluate government, the pieces start falling into place. Challenge is to figure out the bigger picture.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asks about the equity of different revenue sources -- raising property taxes or fees?

Efiom says health cuts will cause some residents to have to pay more to Cook County. Says raising the tax is a much more equitable way to handle it. But have to cover the deficit.

Mayor Steve Hagerty says lower income residents will be most impacted by a property tax increase -- whether renters or home owners.

Says know in general that race and socioeconomic disparities are aligned.

If parking rates went up but use a demand based system ... can park more cheaply in the garage than at a meter, Hagerty says that gives the resident more control than if it was just an increase in property tax that people have no control over.

Efiom says there are unintended consequences to everything we do. Need to get more data to try to address that.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she likes the process -- says it's turning some of the things she thought she knew and stood them upside down.

Bobkiewicz talks about the Balancing Act budget application.

People resoundingly didn't want to raise any revenue. Weren't keen on any reductions in expenditures. Everyone balanced budget by cutting the administrative side.

At community meetings he says, the fire station was the hottest topic.

Says he was surprised at the level of interest in the community workshops. People seemed to like being at diverse places from Little Beans to Temperance Brewery.

Mayor praises the community outreach effort by staff on the budget.

Mayor says there will be more discussion Monday night about the budget and about affordable housing. Expects lot of budget conversation then.

Rainey asks about budget cut to health department and state certification issue.

Bobkiewicz says city is certified through a five-year planning process. Could continue to do the planning process with the cuts. But then there's another definition under state law of a "health department." Says the communicable disease service is required to be a "health department." Says he's now proposing to restore that position.

Rainey asks about movement of parking enforcement to a private entitity. Says parking enforcement should be increased to generate more revenue.

Erika Storlie, assistant city manager, says the plan is to contract out crossing guards -- not parking enforcement. Says the change would let parking enforcement officers no longer have to fill in for crossing guards that are out sick.

Says on Sundays only have one person for a four hour shift. Didn't ask for an additional PEO this year -- but every extra one of them creates a net benefit of $225K to the budget.

Rainey says would like a budget memo on that idea. Says also need more coverage on evenings as well as Sundays.

Bobkiewicz says could also look at rearranging shifts.

Storlie says on a day like today parking enforcement offers are all helping with traffic control around NU football stadium. Bobkiewitz "shushes" her to not let people know that enforcement isn't happening in the rest of the city on game days.

Fiske asks for an estimate of how much money the city loses by not doing parking enforcement during football games.

Meeting adjourned at 11:45 a.m.

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