Evanston plans to hire four more crossing guards this year so the city can keep its parking enforcement officers on the prowl for parking scofflaws.
Until now when school crossing guards called in sick, the city has assigned the parking workers to fill in.
But faced with a forecast 10 percent — or $400,000 — decline in fine revenue next year, officials have decided that hiring the additional crossing guards, for a total of $32,000, makes good economic sense.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said at Saturday's budget workshop that the old policy "is the most ridiculous story I've ever heard in my life. Why were we assigning revenue-generating people to help kids cross the street?"
Public Works Director David Jennings said the parking officers also have other non-revenue producing tasks — like providing traffic control at special events and emergency scenes — but at least the city now has a solution for the crossing guard work.
But Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, came to the defense of parking scofflaws.
"Quite frankly, if there was any place I'd be willing to take a revenue hit it would be in parking fines," Ald. Moran said, "I feel the number of tickets we write is a drag on our economy."
"We need a more welcoming environment for people coming to our downtown, or we drive them to Old Orchard or other places for fear of getting a ticket here," he added.
Ald. Rainey replied, "I look forward to hear how you propose to make up the money. We have beautiful garages for shoppers now. People don't need to violate the law. You can make feel-good statements, but this money would cover the cost of several jobs we're being asked to cut."
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste agreed, saying, "This is tied to jobs. I want to know going forward what changes we can make to make sure our ticket-writers are not running around doing non-revenue-generating activity."
The city still expects to take in $4.2 million in fines from parking tickets, library late charges, false alarm fines and other sources.