Citizens find no way to avoid city layoffs

Evanston aldermen will get the final report from the community budget workshops tonight.

And if they had hopes the citizens might come up with ways to close the projected $8 million gap in the $90 million general fund budget without resorting to layoffs — well, that just didn’t happen.

The top recommendations from the workshops that would not involve layoffs and could be accomplished within a year save well under $1 million.

Those are implementing the plan developed by staff to restructure the city’s waste collection and recycling system, with a projected savings of about $500,000 a year, and a proposal to move Evanston Township offices to the Civic Center, which might save about $100,000 a year, assuming getting out of the existing office lease doesn’t eat up the savings.

The citizen workshoppers also made two specific recommendations that would involve layoffs. Closing the branch libraries could save about $300,000 a year, and closing one of the more lightly-staffed fire stations might save perhaps $1 million.

The workshops also showed some support for one measure to raise fees for residents — by charging for yard waste pickups. City staff tonight will present a plan that could raise $1 million in new yard waste fees, and another $500,000 from increases in refuse pickup charges.

But the workshoppers strongly opposed raising property taxes.

Put all that together and you’ve still closed less than half the budget gap. And you’ve already laid off at least nine firefighters and 5.5 full-time equivalent employees at the library.

The workshop participants also endorsed furlough days — or operating the Civic Center just four days a week. The city’s finance director has estimated that each furlough day could save $200,000 — while still maintaining staffing of 24-hour a day operations like the police and fire departments. So one furlough day per month might save $2.5 million — and effectively trim the pay of most city workers by about 5 percent.

That would still leave a gap of more than $1.5 million. Barring some significant savings from other sources, that would leave the city in line for additional layoffs of perhaps 20 more employees to close the budget gap.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewitz is expected to reveal the outlines of his proposed budget for the new fiscal year that starts in March by Dec. 18.

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