Evanston city officials say they plan to survey local residents and seek ideas from similar communities nationwide as they look to work through yet another budget crunch.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen Tuesday night that he’s identified 10 communities that he wants to look to for information about how much they’re spending on different services and how they’re dealing with budget pressures.

The list includes four chicago suburbs of similar size to Evanston — Arlington Heights, Oak Park, Schaumburg and Skokie.

And it includes six towns from across the nation that also of similar size and house major universities — Ann Arbor, Mich.; Berkeley, Calif.; Cambridge, Mass.; Champaign, Ill.; New Haven, Conn., and Rockville, Md.

And he plans to ask residents to take part in an online budgeting exercise next month — asking them to decide how they’d allocate $100 of city funds among different government priorities.

In response to a question from Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, about including people who don’t have online access in the process, Bobkiewicz said the city could also include the survey in newspaper ads and have 311 operators help residents complete the budget exercise over the phone.

City staff will also develop an inventory of the city’s services and programs and identify how well what the city’s doing matches up with goals represented by city council priorities and the city’s strategic plan.

The process, which starts budget planning earlier than ever before, is expected to include a community planning meeting in late April or early May followed by a number of other sessions leading up to submission of the proposed 2012 budget to the City Council in early October.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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