Evanston has more municipal employees per capita in comparable jobs than two nearby communities of similar size.

Evanston has more municipal employees per capita in comparable jobs than two nearby communities of similar size.

An Evanston Now analysis of municipal budget data shows that Evanston has 8.58 employees in those roles for every 1,000 residents, compared to 7.53 in Skokie and 6.30 in Arlington Heights

City staffing levels have been one issue in the ongoing series of budget workshops as officials try to decide how to close an $8 million gap in the $90 million general fund budget for next year. The next public budget workshop will be held Tuesday evening at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center.

Our analysis excludes parks and library employees in Evanston because those functions are performed by separate taxing districts independent of the municipality in the two other towns.

It includes all other municipal departments in the three communities.

Public Safety

Spending on public safety shows the smallest per capita difference among the three towns, with Evanston spending about 9 percent more than the average of what Skokie and Arlington Heights spend on fire and police services.

But how the funds are allocated is dramatically different. Evanston has 28 percent more police officers per capita and 16 percent fewer firefighters per capita than the average of other two communities.

Development and Health

Evanston spends about 27 percent more per capita than the average of the other two towns on its Community Development and Health and Human Services departments.

There’s not much difference within this group. Evanston spends 30 percent more on Community Development and 22 percent more on Health.

Public Works

Evanston spends 45 percent more per capita on Public Works than the average of the other two communities. That’s after making some small adjustments to the Evanston numbers to account for the much broader service area of Evanston’s water plant, but adding back into Public Works facilities management and parkway tree maintenance work that’s done by the parks department here but by public works in the other towns.

General and administrative

This category includes several city departments that supervise or service other departments — the city manager’s office, finance, human resources, law, the clerk’s office, and the insurance and fleet service funds.

Evanston spends 55 percent more per capita than the average of the other two communities on these functions. Arguably some of that disparity is accounted for by the inclusion of the library and parks under Evanston’s municipal government — upping the overall employee count and requiring heavier staffing of the general functions than in the other two towns.

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To find relates stories, click on the keyword Evanston Budget.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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11 Comments

  1. Police Officers
    While an article like this is great for bringing to light issues concerning our budget, my main concern is that the city might follow along the steps of Chicago and slow down the hiring of police officers. In these economic times one issue of certainty is the rise of crime. Already the city is seeing robberies and assaults of a more “brazen” nature. I have heard of people that live in Chicago wishing the city would cut back elsewhere before cutting back on police officers. I’m hoping Evanston doesn’t make the same mistake Chicago has.

    Reply:
    Crime was down in Evanston 2.7 percent last year with no change in budgeted police staffing levels from the year before. This year so far, crime is down substantially more than that, according to the police chief, despite a roughly 1 percent reduction in budgeted police staffing levels.
    Could just be random variation, or perhaps it’s a result of better tactics making more effective use of the available officers.
    — Bill

  2. Library staffing
    No one who has been in both the Evanston Public Library and the Skokie Public Library can believe that Evanston is over-staffed. The City has already has a hiring freeze and staff attrition and illness have already taken their toll on the adequate staff levels at the library. Often there is no more than one person working at the Circulation Desk, a great inconvenience to the patrons.

    I don’t think that a numeric comparison of other communities necessarily demonstrates that Evanston is over-funding staff or should cut staff. I think it is important to compare like with like and determine exactly how Evanston staff are allocated in comparison with other communities. Certainly, there may be economies that can be made, but it is not obvious from this that cutting staff is the answer.

    Reply:
    If you had read the story more closely, you might have noticed that it explicitly excluded any discussion of library staffing — because library services are provided by separate taxing bodies — not the municipal government — in the other two communities.

    A comparison with other communities cannot determine what is right for Evanston. But it can show what governing bodies in other towns think their residents need. That’s one starting point for trying to assess what we actually need, instead of just assuming that the status quo must be maintained forever, regardless of cost.

    — Bill

  3. Police Officers
    Good to know. Appreciate the response with the stats. Just concerned that economic issues that seemed to have crippled Chicago’s police force would come to Evanston. Keep up the good work. Thanks for the info.

  4. Great Work, Bill
    So we can see that if Evanston wants to close its budget gap, the first logical step would be layoffs in order to bring our staffing at least in line with suburbs of comparable size. This would entail layoffs of at least 13% to be in line with Skokie or 27% to be in line with Arlington Heights.

    The scary thing is that we can’t assume that Skokie and Arlington Heights are espcially efficient governments.

    Bill- I’d really appreciate it if you could also compare median and mean salary and benefits (including health and pension) for Evanston employees to those of Skokie and Arlington Heights. I suspect that in addition to being overstaffed, we will find that our employees are overpaid as well.

    1. Increase the denominator
      dp_witt says:
      “So we can see that if Evanston wants to close its budget gap, the first logical step would be layoffs in order to bring our staffing at least in line with suburbs of comparable size”

      Bill’s chart shows city staffing levels per capita . If we want to lower our per capita levels, and make them comparable to Skokie or Arlington Heights, we could do as you suggest and lower the numerator with layoffs.

      Another logical step would be to increase the denominator. Build the tower, have more development, increase the population and lower the per capita staffing levels.

      1. Tax less and reduce harassment and “they will come”
        As far as I know we have enough units in existing buildings but if Evanston could regain its reputation as a place people would want to live, we would gain population which should help pay the bills. Right now we have a reputation for our deficit [though many cities do], a Council that seems to look for ways to harass residents and business with new rules and fees, a Zoning board that is always planning but never doing and frustrating potential development, a high crime rate, a reputation for bad town/gown relations and shopping that has decreased almost every year for the last thirty years [city management and those with their heads in the clouds seems to believe business and places to shop are beneath the city so let business find somewhere else and shoppers go to Chicago or Skokie—not to mention keeping all manufacturing out].
        We sit with at least two big eye-sores—the old theater land on Central and the old Kendall lot. At least for the latter residents fought the developer and look what we got—a vacant lot instead of tax revenue.
        Doesn’t it strike anyone odd that Kendall and National-Louis [soon to be Seabury but there are other factors there] are gone—was manufacturing and shopping not enough for the Council ? How many more employers do we need to loose ? With Evanston Hospital seek to become Wilmette Hospital ? Will NU seek to become its own city ?
        An increased population might help with our problems but the way things are going that does not look likely.

        1. Population is growing.
          If you look at the U.S. Census website you would see that Evanston’s population estimate has increase 4.6 percent since 2000, from 74,239 then to 77,693 now.

          Not too shabby for an old, land-locked, inner-ring suburb.

          — Bill

          1. NU Grads staying in Evanston
            Years ago I saw a report on how many NU grads live in Evanston. I’ve not been able to find that or an updated report.
            Given that such a report exists, it would be nice but doubtful if it would show how many are undergrad, grad., Kellogg. Also how many stay for 1, 5, 10 years.
            I was amazed how few U.Chicago grads I knew stayed in Hyde Park after graduation for more than a couple of years if that. Also the number of professors who live in Lincoln Park, though part of that is because of schools for their children and safety concerns. I know this is just anecdotal. Obviously a lot of people live in Hyde Park but I don’t know the profile other than what I stated.

        2. Heads in the clouds
          “[city management and those with their heads in the clouds seems to believe business and places to shop are beneath the city so let business find somewhere else and shoppers go to Chicago or Skokie—not to mention keeping all manufacturing out].
          We sit with at least two big eye-sores—the old theater land on Central and the old Kendall lot. At least for the latter residents fought the developer and look what we got—a vacant lot instead of tax revenue.”

          I agree with you, Anonymous. The SE Evanston Association, Central Street NIMBY Association, and the “Zoning Continuity” crowd have chased out all commerce and development…they won’t be happy until we have a giant R1 zone (except for the decrepit 708 Church building) going from Howard to Isabella.

      2. Not realistic
        Increasing Evanston’s population by 15 to 30% is not realistic and would take many years to achieve. And don’t forget that an increase in population would be justification for more City hiring. After all, those new citizens would need new policemen, firemen, teachers, building inspectors etc to take care of them (or so the logic goes). Therefore, you would end up increasing both the numerator and the denominator and be back in the same predicament.

        Also, how tall would that tower have to be to house a 30% increase in population? At 25 units per floor and 2 people per unit, I compute that the building would have to be 450 stories tall to house 22,500 more people. That’s 4 times as tall as the Sears Tower. Talk about an eyesore!

        1. Eyesore is in the eyes of the beholder
          “Also, how tall would that tower have to be to house a 30% increase in population? At 25 units per floor and 2 people per unit, I compute that the building would have to be 450 stories tall to house 22,500 more people. That’s 4 times as tall as the Sears Tower. Talk about an eyesore!

          You are assuming that there is room for only one tower, and no further development. We could have a few towers downtown. Like I always say, you can never have too many towers.

          I do like the idea of a 450-story building in downtown Evanston. Imagine how jealous the Emir of Dubai and the President of Malaysia would be if they saw our giant megatower!

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