You can always count on Evanstonians for ideas. The city is asking for bright ideas about the budget this week on a new “Engage Evanston” website and it’s gotten more than 80 of them so far.

Here are some of the more eye-catching ones.

The bizarre

  • A proposal that the city should recycle old beach tokens into handbags “that would be sold for a profit at local events.”
  • A suggestion that the city deputize citizen volunteers to enforce the leaf-blower ban with fines of up to $1,000. Welcome to Dodge City.

The budget busting

  • Make downtown parking free all the time. Let’s see. That would blow about a $5 million new hole in the budget. How many additional Tilted Kilts would it take to generate the revenue to plug that hole?

Several ideas seem to assume no limits on the city’s ability to borrow more money, despite fears that Evanston’s already too deep in hock to bondholders.

Not to mention that none of those ideas could be implemented in time to generate more revenue in the 2012 budget year.

Thumbs down on economic development

The city’s current efforts at economic development don’t seem very popular. Suggestions include:

  • Stop funding the Technology Innovation Center, which is on track to get another grant from the city soon, and
  • Stop subsidizing businesses downtown, presumably an objection to the city’s facade-improvement grants.

Every dollar helps

Some suggestions do seem to offer a chance of shrinking the budget shortfall a bit.

  • Pick up garbage every 10 days instead of every seven days. Ah, how fragrant it would be to walk down Evanston alleys in the summertime. 
  • “Outsource Evanston’s Human Resource Function.” But will the HR folks show up at City Council meetings to protest like the sanitation workers did? 

Special pleading

You can see the votes of some special interest groups in the ratings of some ideas.

Try, try again

And then there are the perennial favorites that refuse to die, despite insurmountable legal barriers

  • “Charge Other Communities More for Our Water.” Yeah, maybe, after the current long term contracts expire. (But hey, the idea helped get the mayor elected back in 2009.) And
  • Institute Mandatory Payments for the City from Hospitals and Universities.” Hospitals? Maybe if the state actually acts to lift their non-profit status.   Universities? Lots of luck trying to get the state legislature to amend Northwestern’s charter.

So what’s your bright budget idea? You could submit it now over at the Engage Evanston website.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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