The four candidates for mayor of Evanston agreed Wednesday night that the city faces a budget crisis.

But it wasn’t clear from the Levy Center forum how far their ideas might go in actually reducing spending.

Affordable housing

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, suggested the city needs to re-think its affordable housing program.

“Fifteen units have been subsidized at a cost of $89,000 per unit,” Tisdahl said, but most of the units have not been sold because would-be buyers can’t qualify for funding.

She said the program has failed to meet its goal of providing workforce housing for Evanstonians.

Re-thinking the program may make it more efficient. But since the housing program is funded through special-purpose federal grants and targeted affordable housing fees levied on developers, changes are unlikely to achieve a net reduction in city spending.

Pay-as-you-go paving

Planning consultant Jeanne Lindwall said the city might reduce interest costs by doing more of its street repaving projects on a pay-as-you-go basis, rather than making them part of the capital improvement program.

But that solution would only increase costs in the short term, by requiring that the full cost of projects be paide immediately rather than being financed over a period of years.

Fire the consultants

Marketing consultant Barnaby Dinges suggested many consulting contracts included in the budget might be eliminated or postponed. Tisdahl seconded that notion, saying she’s taken a “no more consultants” pledge.

But Plan Commissioner Stuart Opdycke said he wouldn’t go that far — that the consultants on the downtown plan and other recent projects brought a “very high level of expertise” to the work that would be difficult or impossible for city staff to match.

Lindwall suggested that more professionals who live in Evanston could be persuaded to volunteer their time to advise on city issues — as was done with the blue ribbon panel that reviewed the city’s public safety pension problems.

None of the candidates offered figures on how much would be saved by reducing or eliminating consulting contracts.

Squeeze water buyers

Tisdahl suggested the city should seek volunteer legal help from Northwestern University’s law school to break out of its long-term contract to provide water to neighboring communities at what has turned out to be favorable rates for the other towns.

But Opdycke, an attorney, said if the other towns don’t want to renegotiate, “We’re stuck.”

Twenty years into the 40-year contract, the city has so far failed to win major concessions from the other communities despite frequent discussions.

Squeeze city employees

Opdycke and Dinges both suggested that the city should offer its employees smaller salary increases than what’s currently proposed in the draft city budget. But Tisdahl said that under state law the city could be forced into arbitration over pay hikes, “so it may be somewhat out of the City Council’s control.”

What’s essential?

When the meeting was opened to questions, some audience members asked about specific programs — whether the candidates saw those as essential services that should be preserved or non-essential ones that might be trimmed to balance the budget.

All four candidates quickly agreed that branch libraries — a perennial target for elimination budgeted next year at $405,000 — are essential.

And, as cameras from the Evanston Community Media Center rolled to record the event, the candidates also agreed that public access television — which is budgeted to receive $353,000 in city funds next year — also is something they favor.

The mayoral candidates forum will be shown in full on Evanston Cable Channel 16 on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and Fridays at 8 p.m. during the month of February.  

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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20 Comments

  1. Branch libraries are essential services?
    Really? I must have a poor understanding of what “essential” means.

    1. Jason – can you give us any ideas on cuts in the fire department
      Jason – where can we taxpayers save on the fire department?

      I do not see much need for a full time emergency manager in the fire department.

      Nor do I see the point of why the chief hired someone to review sprinkler drawings with the revenues down the position can not be justified.( could have just pass the cost of the reviewer to an outside firm on the applicant.)

      I also would like to know why we need such large ambulances, I noticed the city of Skokie uses a small vans for ambulances – I am certain that would save plenty of money.

      All departments need a hard look – not just the branch libraries.

      Jason while I support branches if the council decided to cut them I would be Ok with it, provide the voters of the areas they are in had the oppurtunity to decide if they wanted a separate taxing district to support them. ( I do not live that near the North branch by the way) –

      1. Fire Department information
        Mr. Rizki,

        At the risk of sounding like I am refusing to address your inquiries, I must respectfully decline. The fire service is a paramilitary organization, and following the chain of command is vitally important to the success and safety of our operations.

        I would encourage you to address your inquiries through the proper channels–in your case, I would address them to your alderman, who can in turn direct them to the City Manager.

        Respectfully Yours,
        Jason Hays

        1. nice answer
          Awesome answer

          I’m sure that inquiries through the proper channels will result in the same answer that they always result in- that there is no waste whatsoever in the government and that in fact we should be spending more taxpayer money than we currently are.

          Bottom line is management wants to protect their jobs and those of their subordinates. We will never hear a government official admit that waste exists and that cuts can be made because they could be cutting their own throats.

          That’s why the taxpayers have to unite a force the issue. Make the cuts and ask questions later.

        2. Paramilitary organization, in Evanston?
          Jason – I did not realize the city of Evanston – had a “Paramilitary organization”?

          I realize you are an employee of the fire department -and you do not want to upset your bosses.

          But if you want to propose cuts to other departments and services – then you are going to be asked about your own department. It is only fair.

          I have a neighbor she works for the village of Wilmette her comment to me once was she did not want to live in Wilmette since she works there.

          Jason, I feel sorry for you, most of us are just taxpayers, but you have it worst you are a taxpayer and an employee.

          I feel sorry for many of the employees here, going to the meetings such as APW were the council members do not have a clue as to what is going on,and staff are told the most stupid things by council members and they can not response back.

          Jason, it is my feeling next year they may have a cash flow crisis and may not be able to even pay the employees.

      2. another taxing body?
        Junad wrote: “All departments need a hard look – not just the branch libraries . . . Jason while I support branches if the council decided to cut them I would be Ok with it, provide the voters of the areas they are in had the oppurtunity to decide if they wanted a separate taxing district to support them.”

        Junad — I am glad to see that you have determined that the branch libraries need a hard look. I would agree. Unlike you, I do not support them. And think that some of the resources that support them would be better spent in the Main Library in providing resources for everyone.

        However, you have lost me as to why you would want to consider having an additional tax levy being added to anyone’s or any area’s tax bills. Keep in mind that the separate recreation districts receive no City support. Can you imagine a library on Central, for instance. that would have to have sufficient tax resources to provide all of its own accounting, bookkeeping, legal, maintenance, management, personnel, staffing, and occupancy costs . . . before it even gets into having a collection? Much of it could probably be done on contract or by having some payroll service do it. But I would imagine that this would quickly be cost prohibitive for all involved.

        1. Anonymous -= on your comment about branch libraries
          Anonymous – I am sick of the council members and others using the branch libraries for their political purposes.

          The best why to put this to rest – cut the budget out not back to the main library – and let the voters decide if they wish to support a separate small library district in the area on Central street cost can be worked out and the voters decide. Until numbers are put together – you do not know what the real costs are for a separate branch.

          I think it is very important to let those that are in the area of Central Street to decide if they would be willing to pay to keep the branch – If less than 50% support it – it will be shut down.

          One thing I was told by those working at the branch they are all part time thus they get no benefits. We save 30% already on payroll. So do not be so fast on stating costs are going to be so high.

          Liz Tishdal has made this more difficult since she push to have the adjoining building sold, which would have created a better space.

          I really don’t see this as happening since council members don’t like to give anything up – just screw it up.

          One issue – everybody can use a branch library – this appears to be one of the points of those against branches they some how support only those who live a block away. If it was a separate library those not in the district could still use it – but just like a Evanston resident using the Wilmette library there might be check out restriction on books.

  2. Bill, Just to be More Specific
    Bill:

    Perhaps you were too busy blogging to track all the budget savings I listed, so let me be more specific here >>

    1) I think we can save about $1-million on consulting contracts (unless they are enginerring studies to get projects ready for immediate federal funding).

    2) The City is spending $17-million for finance/administration/HR/legal. I think we can find at least $1-million in savings in these non-essential areas.

    3) Each 1% increase in the City payroll adds nearly $1-million to the budget; a 5% increase in these tough financial times is way out of line. I think a 1% increase is fair (in light of all the other benefits of City employment). This saves about $4-million.

    There you go >> $6-million in specific savings from a $91-million budget, a savings of nearly 7%.

    Barnaby Dinges
    http://www.dingesformayor.com

  3. More essentials in branch libraries…
    …does that $405K budget figure include the $52K for the architect hired to rehab the branches (for an estimated $300K?) Or is that simply the cost of salaries and expenses to run the branches in their current (non-ADA compliant) state?

    Reply:
    The $405K is just annual operating costs. It does not include the capital improvements or rehab work.
    — Bill

  4. Branch libraries
    Are somehow sacred cows that are never questioned even though studies done show that they are underutilized and serve under 12% of the population, peer institutions (with much more support) like Skokie do not have branch libraries, and the main library and outreach services (which could reach many more citizens) are significantly underfunded. Best library practice nationally suggests that citizens have excellent access to a library if they live within a 3.5 mile radius. Virtually everyone in Evanston, with the exception of folks in the far southwest corner of Evanston, lives within a 3.5 mile radius of the main library. And we have great public transportation here.

    So I don’t understand why taking some of the branch library $$ and using them for the entire library operation and perhaps cutting some portion of the total library budget is never seriously on the table. This is an example of closed minds and bad assumptions running our public policy.

  5. Is that it?
    Is that really all the candidates could come up with?

    Forget about lowering the amount of raises, there should be no raises at all! Heck, there should be decreases in salary. I also don’t see any mention of cutbacks in employee benefits.

    Regarding the affordable housing program, just scrap it altogether!

    Getting rid of consultants is fine, but why aren’t there discussions of getting rid of employees as well?

    If we really want to get serious about solving the budget crisis, we can’t be worried about stepping on anyone’s toes. Tax receipts are falling like a rock and won’t be coming back anytime soon. Government needs to be severely downsized accordingly.

  6. Trim pay raises
    In the City of Evanston, there are three contracts coming up soon for renewal: police, fire and non-uniformed staff.

    Marty Lyons, Evanston’s finance director has currently projected a $1.8 million deficit.

    Nevertheless, he expects pay raises for the more than eight hundred employees to end up in the 5% range. Of course that deficit could be entirely eliminated and then some if the city were to reach more reasonable labor settlements.

    I do not take issue with the fact that our city employees, including policemen and firemen are deserving of healthy pay raises, but this year we find ourselves in a deepening recession.

    The economy is in free fall. I suspect that it will be at least another two years before we see signs of recovery. Every citizen of our community will be called upon to bear some of the burden in these difficult times.

    Critical services must remain intact. Police and fire pensions must be properly funded, not by transferring monies from general fund reserves, but through structural budgetary changes that may involve program and non-essential service cuts. Put simply, this is not a time for a 5% pay increase.

    I call upon the City Council, the Budget Office, and all the good men and women who serve our community to remember that we should not always look to the property owner to close the budget gaps. We are a strong city and we will get through this…We can do it!

    Stuart Opdycke
    Candidate for Mayor

    1. Mr Opdycke – will you take a cut in pay? and not take medical?
      Mr Opdycke – the council members gave themselves a 20% pay increase along with the Mayor for the next year. As they covered up – they also pay almost nothing for medical benefits which no part time city employees get in the first place.

      Anyone asking employees to take cuts – that is an elected official here needs to tells us if they will cut their wages and benefits.

      I think its interesting Obama – frozen salaries on those in his staff making over $100,000 what are council members going to do?

      Appears Liz Tisdahl thinks she is going to go and get free money from Washington – I would also like to know her position on salaries and benefits.

      1. Mayoral Pay Cut
        Mr. Rizki- Mayoral compensation is $19,000. per annum plus medical benefits. My wife Sarah and I pay roughly $1,000 every month for health insurance. This amount comes out of our pockets. We are not a wealthy family but in answer to your question as to whether I “would take a cut in pay and not take medical” [were I elected Mayor] My answer is that I would consider a 10% reduction in all benefits. I hasten to point that while the office of Mayor is “part-time” I would expect to devote the better part of my waking hours to the job. I would also point out that the job of alderman is essentially “volunteer”. If one were to calculate their compensation on an hourly basis,it would probably come in around $1.35/hr. Our community is well served by our aldermen who do an enormous amount of good work. We should not forget that. Stuart Opdycke

        1. ” My answer is that I would
          ” My answer is that I would consider a 10% reduction in all benefits. I hasten to point that while the office of Mayor is “part-time” I would expect to devote the better part of my waking hours to the job. I would also point out that the job of alderman is essentially “volunteer”. If one were to calculate their compensation on an hourly basis,it would probably come in around $1.35/hr. Our community is well served by our aldermen who do an enormous amount of good work. We should not forget that. “

          It is nice to see that at least one candidate who is willing to stand up to the demagogues on an issue.

          To all candidates who advocate lower salaries for aldermen or mayor…please tell us, are you giving up your day job? Are you independently wealthy? How are you paying your bills?

          The salaries for aldermen and mayor are really small change. If we eliminate the salary and benefits of all aldermen and the mayor, the City’s financial position will be essentially unchanged and our taxes will remain unchanged.

          Put another way…who would you rather have as mayor :

          Opdycke working for 19K+benefits , or Junad working for free?

          anybody?

          1. Who – it is called leadership by example
            Mr Who states

            “The salaries for aldermen and mayor are really small change. If we eliminate the salary and benefits of all aldermen and the mayor, the City’s financial position will be essentially unchanged and our taxes will remain unchanged.”

            WHO – the city council is calling on employees to take pay cuts – were is the example – when they pay less for medical benefits and give themselves a 20% increase?

            WHO can you explain how the council members are making $1.35/hour inquiring minds want to know?
            Lets see how good you are with Math.

            Who – not one council member justified their medical benefits during the hearing – on salaries – by the way not all the council members are living on limits means –

            Mr Opdycke has stated his position he will take a 10% cut in benefits – I am Ok with that – ofcourse I am not clear what it means. Maybe your inquiring mind can figure it out.

            Put another way WHO – if they cut out the medical benefits it would keep one employees position or several part-time positions.

        2. Mr Opdycke – I am unclear on your numbers
          I do not really understand your point about a 10% cut in benefits.

          If you were elected – I am unclear what a 10% cut in medical benefits means – you would be paying $37 a month for full family coverage worth $17,000.

          Are you planning to increase the cost to all employees 10%? That is increase co-pays and other payments?

          I am also in no way clear that the alderperson make $1.35 a hour – I made $1.35 hour years ago as a kid.

          Lets look at their pay

          $12.000 per year / $1.35 per hour = 8888. hours

          Or better yet

          ($12,000 per year plus $17,000 in medical benefits)/
          $1.35 per hour = 21,481 hours per year

          GIVEN THERE ARE 8760 HOURS IN A YEAR – I WOULD LIKE KNOW HOW YOU COME UP WITH THE $1.35 per hour figure?
          you might think they are working more hour in a year than exist I do not.

          My estimate is that some of these people may put 20 hours per week in – other less given how little they are prepare.

          Mr Opdycke I am not interest in your person business as far as if you have or do not have medical coverage-
          if you were mayor – and work a normal 2088 hours you pay rate would be about $17.24 – so that is OK with me- understand the question I am asking is should public official have gold plate coverage at $37 a month for $17,000 year in beneifts.

  7. Reduce the budget for recycling to zero
    When I moved here to Evanston in 1978 the method of recycling was to diy. And many consciencious citizens did just that. They brought the recyclable items to the recycling center. (So, maybe we don’t eliminate the recycling center). Truth be told recycling paper is a waste and other prices for recyclable items are all way down. Eliminate the trucks and salaries of a losing proposition. I have watched Evanston deal with the budget for many years and the fact of the matter there are too many sweetheart deals with to many organizations.

  8. Perspective on budget issues for City of Evanston, D202 & D65
    In light of upcoming labor negotiations at the City of Evanston and recent labor agreements passed at D65, including Dr. Hardy Murphy’s pay increase, I thought it would be helpful to share with others what is happening in the corporate economy. Since our general economic challenges are well known,I thought people may be interested in specific examples from leading companies like Federal Express and what they are doing in this environment.The following commentary comes from a press release dated, Dec 18, 2008:

    “Cost Reductions

    FedEx has already taken actions to reduce over $1 billion of expenses for all of fiscal 2009, including:

    – Elimination of variable compensation payouts
    – Hiring freeze
    – Volume-related reductions in labor hours and line- haul expenses
    – Discretionary spending cuts
    – Personnel reductions at FedEx Freight and FedEx Office

    FedEx is now implementing a number of additional cost reduction initiatives to mitigate the effects of deteriorating business conditions, including:

    Base salary decreases, effective January 1, 2009:
    20% reduction for FedEx Corp. CEO Frederick W. Smith
    7.5%-10.0% reduction for other senior FedEx executives
    5.0% reduction for remaining U.S. salaried exempt personnel
    Elimination of calendar 2009 merit-based salary increases for U.S.salaried exempt personnel
    Suspension of 401(k) company matching contributions for a minimumof one year, effective February 1, 2009”

    This is just one of many examples. People (taxpayers) in Evanston and other communities across our country are losing jobs, receiving reductions in compensation and benefits – that is the reality of today’s environment. Unlike guaranteed pension and health care benefits and job security that are provided to public employees, employees in the corporate sector are increasingly confronted with fiscal challenges; loss of jobs, loss of or increased cost of health care, and a reduction in retirement security.

    Hopefully, people in leadership positions in Evanston will recognize the reality of today (and the future) in negotiating on behalf of our community. Taxpayers do not have unlimited resources.

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