Evanston aldermen, dissatisfied with the response of Township Assessor Sharon Eckersall to their calls for spending reductions in her office, voted Monday to make even deeper cuts in her budget.

In the midst of a discussion about budget line items, the assessor reminded the aldermen that as an elected official she has the authority to determine how her budget is spent and that the aldermen, sitting as township trustees, only have power to determine her overall budget amount.

With that, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, proposed that cuts of about $35,000 suggested by Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, at the last meeting be increased to $54,800 – which happens to be the amount of the deputy assessor’s salary.

“Alderman Bernstein,” she said, “I give you some advice. Don’t mess with the minutia because you’re going to get into this unintelligible debate.”

Ald. Bernstein, a former township assessor, seconded the motion for deeper cuts.

The cuts leave the assessor with a budget of $112,447 for the new fiscal year, including her own part-time salary of $6,000.

Ald. Bernstein told the assessor, “If I had my druthers, I would cut funding to the statutory allowance for your salary. I’m so frustrated by the answers you’ve given us for years and years.”

“This office needs to be revised,” Ald. Rainey said, “and the way we do it is we do it now. There’s no reassessment for a few more years, no huge demands of the assessor’s office now.”

“I think it’s the only way to force reform, and I can assure you the assessor’s office is ready for reform, regardless of what the assessor says,” she added.

As the assessor attempted to reply, Ald. Rainey added, “Please do not respond to me. None of what you say makes any sense.”

The assessor had proposed increasing her office’s spending this year 7 percent over its actual expenses last year.

The aldermen voted 7-0 to make the cuts and adopt the rest of the township budget.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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