City spending surges while taxpayers’ pay stagnates


Aldermen begin considering next year’s budget Monday night faced with an unpleasant reality — the city’s spending has been increasing far more rapidly than the incomes of Evanston residents.

City salary records show that from 2009 to 2015 the city’s total payroll costs increased 12.6 percent, while Census Bureau data shows that during the same period the median household income in Evanston rose just 0.7 percent. (More recent median income figures aren’t yet available.)

And the increase in the city’s payroll came despite a nearly 3 percent decline in the number of full-time-equivalent city employees during that period.

The city’s ability to control its payroll costs without layoffs is limited because about 80 percent of the city’s workforce is unionized.

The union contracts have arbitration clauses that mean if the city presses too hard to hold down pay hikes, it could end up being forced to give workers what the union asked for — if an arbitrator ruled in the union’s favor on the wage issue.

The city now has agreements with most of its unions that provide for a 3 percent pay hike next year. But the city, instead of reaching a three-year agreement as it has typically done in the past, agreed to a two year deal, retroactive to the start of 2017, which means the city will have a chance to revisit the pay issue in just another year.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz is calling for a net reduction in full-time-equivalent jobs for 2018 of 28 positions, or about 3.5 percent of the workforce.

In an interview, Bobkiewicz said even if he has to reduce the total city workforce, he’d prefer to keep pay rates competitive for the workers who remain, so the city doesn’t face employee retention problems.

Total city spending next year is expected to reach $280.5 million, net of interfund transfers. Thats a 38 percent increase from the $203.5 million spent in the 2009-10 fiscal year and a $33.4 million increase over this year.

Much of the year-over-year increase is for capital projects for the water fund, the Crown Center and the library.

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