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Recap: City Council budget meeting

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Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council budget workshop.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:05 p.m. A packet with information on tonight’s meeting is available online. More background on the budget is available on the city website. Our stories about the budget can be found here.

Meeting called to order at 7:07 p.m.

City Clerk Devon Reid says early voting at the Civic Center has set a record this year.

Also says Lyft and Uber are offering free rides to the polls tomorrow.

Public Comment

Make Vasilko says aldermen have become a record-breaking tax-and-spend council.

Says library director’s contract should be renegotiated.

Meg Krulee, president of District 65 teachers union, opposes closure of Fire Station 4.

Ray Freedman wants aldermen to respond to public comments from citizens.

Eric Paset, owner of Northshore Apartments and Condos, says nobody wants to give up services — so we’re all part of the problem — making taxes go up.

Everytime we raise taxes it forces out affordable housing in Evanston, he says.

Says rental property owners pay a lot more in property taxes than single-family homeowners — which means rents keep rising.

Jason Hays, firefighter, says he’s angry that its the second time in his career that the city manager has proposed cuts in the Fire Department.

Says would have a 20 percent reduction in Fire Department force in proposed budget. (This is only accurate if you don’t count ambulances or trucks. Proposal is to cut one of five fire engines.)

Mary Rosinski says Harley Clarke is not a budget item. Claims it would create jobs and become a revenue source.

Opposes closing fire station, which she says is close to the high school. (Actually Fire Station 1 is closer to the high school than Station 4, which is the one proposed for closing.)

Budget discussion

Mayor Steve Hagerty suggests going through expense reductions tonight. (Did revenue increase proposals at last meeting.)

Says at next meeting, Monday, Nov. 12, wants city manager to come back with a “budget 2.0” to consider.

City manager notes 14 new budget memos that came out at the end of last week.

Starting with

City manager’s office … manager runs through about $500K of cuts in his office. (Amounts to about 11.7 percent of department’s staffing.)

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, objects to cuts in arts programming. Says they contribute to the economy through job creation.

Wynne says the city money amounts to seed money that groups can use to get larger grants. Says the $50K is very impactful.

Wilson says he agrees. Says the money improves the built environment and improves attractiveness for businesses.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, agrees.

Rainey says performing arts also important to the city. Says Dance Center Evanston provided a boost to the Dempster-Dodge shopping center. Says neighbors and merchants on Howard Street are thrilled about the cabaret theater coming there.

Fleming says may need staff to run the arts programs as well.

Law Department … about $50K in cuts … replacing one person with a lower-salaried substitute.

Administrative Services … about $200K in cuts … 3.6 percent reduction in staffing.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asks about outsourcing staff in human resources.

Assistant City Manager Erika Storlie says has looked at it but hasn’t found any savings.

Community Development …. some shift of funds, but no net cuts in spending … staffing increases by 9 percent.

Fleming says she’s concerned about adding full time customer service rep — could do part time or use other staff to fill in?

Health and Human Services … budget proposal called for about $750K in net cuts amounting to a 32 percent staffing cut.

Manager says he plans to come back with plans next week for lesser cuts — restoring communicable disease specialist position and perhaps one additional position.

Mental Health Board funding … manager says in difficult budget times … it’s taking tax dollars and providing to private not profits. Still proposing a one-third cut in that funding.

Says victim services — wants to contract that out to the YWCA … hopes to have contract finalized before the end of the year.

Vital records … says birth certificates can be gotten elsewhere (including at Skokie Courthouse). Says it’s a policy decision for the council.

Health Director Evonda Thomas Smith is on vacation … so a lot of issues are being deferred until next week when she’s scheduled to be back.

Police Department … about $500K in net spending reductions … about 3 percent reduction in department staffing.

Police chief says says cost of a first year police officer is “a humdinger” — because of training and testing costs. Makes no sense to bring somebody on and then lay them off a year later. So decided to leave several positions vacant this year.

Says patrol division staffing minimum is set at 10.

City manager says may come back with some revisions — may suggest holding some of the positions vacant rather than eliminating them.

Chief says on weekends after 11 p.m. would have eight cars on the street (two of them would be two-man cars). In addition would have a minimum of two supervisors on duty. (Beats 77 and 78 get the two man cars.)

In response to question from city manager Eddington says the maximum on the street overnight he’s had in his 12 years in Evanston is perhaps 15 officers.

Says has over time significantly reduced the on-street staffing of the police department. Used to have grants for summer overtime. Eliminated that last year.

Says is aware of erosion of response time. Has added about 30 seconds to emergency response time. But still successful in reducing the part one crime rate.

When “stuff happens,” extra officers can be deployed on overtime.

Says an additional five officers would lead to about two extra officers on a shift across seven days a week.

Fleming suggests doing the staff analysis suggested by the consultant.

Suffredin asks City Manager about overall overnight staffing… told:

  • 10 police officers + 2 supervisiors + 3 police civilian employees
  • 26 firefighters
  • 6 public works employees from December through April.
  • 2 employees at the water plant

Fire Department

Manager says city has a large budget deficit to cover. To not consider police and fire reductions was not responsible.

No chief is going to advocate for less resources.

Says doesn’t want to endanger the residents. But important for council and community to recognize the cost of providing the services.

Fire Chief Brian Scott says Fire Station 4 was selected for proposed closing because of some capital improvement needs there.

Says current minimum staffing is 26 per day. Says current staffing model has been in place for over 35 years.

(Five three-person engine crews, two three-person truck crews, two two-person ambulance crews plus a shift chief.)

Claims comparable communities have average staffing of 33.

Mayor asks how many of the 10,000 calls are fires? What’s driving the increase in calls? Are other communities seeing that increase?

Scott says other communities are seeing similar increases. Says aging population is a factor. Says fire departments now are “all hazard” departments.

Less than one percent of calls are major structure fires — about 90 total per year.

But says need to consider resiliency. Need staffing when an emergency happens.

Says looking, working with Presence Health to provide better EMS services.

Fiske says police and fire are top priority. Says she can’t support cuts to fire department or police department.

Mayor says about 55 percent of general fund budget is police and fire. About 75 percent of that is labor.

Braithwaite says none of his residents are supporting cuts. Some are even willing to look at tax increases if dollars go direct to fire and police

Wynne says the chief’s data is really helpful. Really appreciate superb fire service. Doesn’t want to make any cuts to anything.

Says have model established 35 years ago. Says likes that are looking at how can come up with other answers for “frequent fliers” (heavy users of EMS service).

Says just like police has different deployment numbers for different times of day — sees that fire call volume definitely drops overnight — is it possible to still provide a fast response for the vast majority of time — but just like police have different staffing and an emergency room has different staffing. Is it possible to not close station 4 but change deployment numbers. Would like to know more about that. Can change the deployment model so tailor deployment to need at different times of day.

Says, much more long term — if you were redrawing the map — where are the optimal places to put fire stations. Know we have fire stations because of historical reasons.

Looking at staffing comparison — says Skokie has more firefighters but are spending $2M a less than we are. Arlington Heights has 25 daily staffing and are spending $4.5M less than we are. Wants more information about how those numbers break down. Arlington Height has same call volume as Evanston, but spends substantially less.

In response to question from Fleming, Scott says St. Francis would pick up the cost for the fire fighters doing the screening for “frequent fliers.”

Scott says if hold four vacancies save about $346K versus having those positions filled, after accounting for overtime.

Wilson says important to meet pension obligations, too. Is general inclination to keep station open, but also look for other types of solutions — labor cost savings or bring the call volumes down, or getting additional ambulance.

Rainey says fire service is insurance — don’t want to ever have to use it.

Revelle wants to keep Fire Station 4. Thanks Wynne for her questions about future savings.

In response to Revelle’s question, Scott says majority of EMS calls to lead to transportation to hospital. Scott says city gets about $1.7 million in revenue from reimbursement of those transport runs.

City manager says there’s an opportunity to increase that revenue while putting in policies to protect Evanston residents from higher costs.

Fiske asks if can break down calls per station per hour.

Mayor says would need a double-digit property tax increase if can’t get budget cuts. References Evanston Now story.

Asks for data on increase in firefighter pay over the past five years.

Parks Department

Gibb Morrison closure now off the table. That leaves about $250K in reductions for the department. About 3 percent reduction in staffing.

Public Works

City manager says has been lots of cuts and downsizing in Public Works in recent years. Smaller changes for this year. Budget reduction of about $225K. About 3 percent reduction in staffing.

Public Works Director Dave Stoneback says it appears the employees scheduled for layoff will be able to be reassigned to different, now vacant, positions.

City wide changes

No general wage increase for non-union employees would save $345K … about $200K in other cuts.

City manager says would like to take one or two of the smaller cuts off the table during the budget balancing process.

Fleming suggests doing mileage reimbursement rather than auto allowances. Unhappy especially with library director’s auto allowance.

Parking Fund

Wilson says he’s not convinced of the need for adding a “neighborhood parking specialist.”

Fiske suggests postponing that hire.

Increase parking meters from $1 to $2. Manager says aldermen seem to want to have “twist and turn” in process of getting there.

Suggests perhaps a three year plan for incremental increases, and phase in Sunday increases.

Wynne says doesn’t think can double the rates right away.

Says starting Sunday meters at noon or 1 p.m. is OK. Doesn’t want to charge on Sunday mornings for church-goers.

Wilson says he thinks should go to $1.50 next year and $2 in 2020. Worried about nickel-and-diming if spread out out over more years.

Rainey says she supports adding two parking enforcement officers. They’ll generate a lot of revenue, she says.

Fiske says agrees with Wilson, but would like to get feedback from Economic Development and small businesses on impact of parking rate hikes on customer volume.

Suggests raising rate for surface lots to $90. Suggests increasing meter rates citywide, rather than just downtown.

Mayor says he likes the demand-based pricing model — keeping the garages at $1 while raising the meters to $2.

Water and sewer rates

Decreasing sewer and increasing water rates — net combined rate unchanged.

Solid waste

15 percent increase in rates for 95 gallon and 65 gallon refuse carts.

Public Works Director Dave Stoneback says haven’t been getting anticipated revenue.

To get solid waste fund to true enterprise fund status (being self-supporting from revenue the fund generates) need to have these rate increases.

Braithwaite says he’d rather hold this discussion for next week.

Meeting adjourned at 10:48 p.m.

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