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Council talks job cuts in private

After spending hours in open session talking about tax and fee increases to fund the city’s ballooning budget, Evanston aldermen went into executive session this afternoon to discuss trimming some city jobs to reduce expenses.

A proposed $40 per unit annual license fee on rental apartment drew strong endorsements from several aldermen and no objections were raised to increases in sanitation fees, vehicle sticker and residential parking permit charges or a new charge for historic preservation reviews.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, objected to the closed-door discussion of staffing cuts and read off what appeared to be a list of at least three positions proposed for elimination by the city manager, but it was not known how many job reductions the city manager was proposing from the city’s staff of over 800 full-time-equivalent employees.

In an e-mail message, Ald. Rainey later insisted that she was merely describing hypothetical budget cuts by department.

Aldermen spent much of the session bemoaning the fate that forces them to deal with long-deferred fire and police pension funding obligations.

Trying to start paying down those debts led City Manager Julia Carroll to propose a budget that calls for a 15 percent property tax increase this year.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested stretching the payments out over a longer period than the two-decade catchup plan now required under state law.

Mayor Lorraine Morton said, "I can’t fathom how this problem can be solved on a local level. It’s a state issue. We have to get together with legislators and see what can be done."

"It’s just about ruined me," the mayor said, "It’s going to put me in the hospital because of what’s hanging over our head."

The state has created a major bind for municipalities, making them responsible for covering any shortfall in investment returns on police and fire pension plans but not given them control over investment allocation decisions. In addition it has periodically raised benefit levels without providing any funds to cover those added benefits.

However Evanston may not be in the strongest position to appeal for state help, since other muncipalities including Arlington Heights, operating under the same rules, have managed to achieve public safety pension funding levels in the 70 to 80 percent range, while Evanston’s funding levels have fallen to just over 40 percent.

In any case, Carroll said, there’s almost no chance of any action by the legislature before the city has to adopt its new budget at the end of February.

The city manager, who had promised to provide a current listing of city jobs by department at the meeting, said her staff had run out of time to prepare the list, but promised to have it for the aldermen next week.

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