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Budget workshop calls for staff cuts

Evanston residents participating Monday night in the last of four budget workshop sessions strongly endorsed cutting the city’s staff as part of the solution to its projected $8 million budget shortfall for next year.

A tally by workshop facilitator Lynn Montei of votes for various money-saving strategies showed 27 votes for layoffs.

Evanston residents participating Monday night in the last of four budget workshop sessions strongly endorsed cutting the city’s staff as part of the solution to its projected $8 million budget shortfall for next year.

A tally by workshop facilitator Lynn Montei of votes for various money-saving strategies showed 27 votes for layoffs.

Working from a long list of suggestions developed at previous workshop sessions and written comments from city staff about the potential savings or other consequences of the ideas, the two-dozen or so workshop participants wrote favored suggestions on sheets of flip-chart paper.

After each sheet was attached to the raised platform at the front of the City Council chamber in the Civic Center, each participant placed one of five colored stickers by the suggestions they favored most.

Ranked second by the participants, with 16 votes, was changing the city’s waste hauling system — including farming out more of the work to private contractors.

As several alderman watched from the Council Chamber ante-room, Montei read off several other popular suggestions:

  • Move township offices to the Civic Center to eliminate rental costs, 15 votes;
  • Sell water to more communities to increase revenue, 11 votes;
  • Close the branch libraries to reduce costs, 10 votes;
  • Change city parking pass and garage policies, 8 votes;
  • Close a fire station, 7 votes; and
  • Develop a new revenue-generating fine arts district on the lakefront, 5 votes.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz noted two other ideas that had received four votes — refinancing the city’s current debt, in hopes of achieving lower interest rates and extending the repayment period, and cooperating with nearby towns, like Skokie and Wilmette, to reduce costs by sharing some municipal services.

And he said the tally for staff cuts pulled together several separate ideas he said merit separate consideration by the council, including a suggestion for a 10 percent cut in management spending across the board and reducing city operations to a four-day week.

Bobkiewicz said the workshop sessions will be played back on a marathon schedule on the city’s cable channel 16 this weekend, leading to an hour-long live call in show scheduled for 6 p.m. Sunday.

The City Council is to get a report on the budget workshop results at a special meeting Monday evening.

Bobkiewicz said that after the council meeting his staff will prepare a summary of a proposed budget for next year that he hopes to release by Dec. 18, with the traditional full, detailed budget document to be released on schedule by the end of December.

The City Council’s budget debate is expected to occupy much of January, with final adoption of the budget due before the end of February. The city’s new fiscal year starts March 1.

City officials have estimated that about 75 percent of spending in the roughly $90 million general fund consists of salaries and employee benefits. To close an $8 million budget deficit solely through layoffs would require cutting roughly 100 of the city’s 840 full-time-equivalent workers.

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