Proposed spending cuts totalling $4.3 million drew far more complaints at Monday’s Evanston City Council budget meeting than planned tax and fee hikes totalling $3.3 million.
More than half the dollar value of cuts proposed by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz came in for criticism from the roughly 50 people who spoke during the session, while just one person objected to a fee hike — one that amounts to less than 10 percent of the planned increases in charges.
Some combination of increased revenue and reduced spending is needed to close a projected $7.4 million gap in the city’s budget for next year.
Robin Rue Simmons.
The objectors scored one victory when Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, said she’d identified some additional potential revenue streams that could make it possible to keep the Gibbs Morrison Cultural Center in operation.
Bobkiewicz had proposed trying to find a private operator for the center, or failing that, to close it. The center now generates about $55,000 a year in revenue, mostly from a lease to the food service operator First Slice Pie Company, but it costs nearly $227,000 to operate.
Aldermen approved a motion to drop plans to close the center on a 7-2 vote.
The aldermen took no action on other proposals that drew fire from speakers
- Several representatives of agencies that get funding from the Mental Health Board objected to plans to cut $250,000 from that $736,000 program.
- Some medical professionals criticized planned staff reductions in the Health Department. One said eliminating three positions for a savings of $361,000 would cost the city $800,000 in state and federal grant funding.
- One speaker criticized plans to eliminate three jobs for victim advocates. The manager is proposing that the city contract out those services to the YWCA to save $108,000.
- Several residents voiced fears about their safety if the city goes through with plans to save $1.285 million by closing Fire Station 4.
- One speaker criticized plans to charge for meter parking downtown on Sundays to raise a projected $292,500 — saying it would be an inconvenience to people attending services at downtown churches.
Many of those issues are expected to come up again when the Council holds a special meeting on the budget at 9 a.m. Saturday.
Efforts by Kevin Brown, head of the city’s youth and young adult program, to torpedo the manager’s plans to turn that program over to a new supervisor and reassign him to head a new workforce development program appeared to stall out during the meeting.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, called for keeping Brown as head of the youth program “at least until after the budget season.”
But Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said no cut in funding for the program was being proposed by the manager and that Braithwaite’s proposal would put the Council in the position of taking over the manager’s role in carrying out Council policies.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “We’re not elected to micro-manage the city manager.
“Good luck finding anyone to work here [as manager] if we start doing that,” Wilson added.
After a lengthy debate, Bobkiewicz agreed to return to the Council on Nov. 12 with a full discussion of the programs, and Braithwaite withdrew his motion.