Planned cuts to Fire Department staffing were a hot topic as dozens of residents gathered at Temperance Beer Company Tuesday evening to discuss Evanston’s 2019 city budget.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he’s proposing to trim 38.5 full-time-equivalent jobs from the city’s payroll next year, cutting the total workforce to 776 FTE jobs.
Nine of those position reductions would come in the Fire Department, as the city tries to avoid raising property taxes while closing a $7.4 million revenue gap.
Fire Chief Brian Scott stressed that he didn’t favor any cuts to his department, but prepared the plan to close Fire Station 4 at the manager’s direction.
Bobiewicz said that if the City Council chose not to close Station 4 on Washington Street in south Evanston but still felt it had to reduce spending for fire and ambulance services, another alternative would be to close one of the two fire stations located on Central Street in north Evanston.
In a crowd dominated by firefighters and their supporters, the idea of cutting back on that department wasn’t popular, as Scott, a former president of the local firefighters union, described the likely impact of the closure.
The result, Scott said, would be longer response times, especially in the southern portion of town, although a map he prepared for aldermen indicates that only the far southwest corner of the city — occupied by the the Target and Jewel-Osco shopping center on Howard Street and the Autobarn service center and Vineyard Christian Church just to the north — would see response times greater than the four-minute goal set by the National Fire Protection Association.
The fire chief’s map showing response times if Station 4 were closed.
Bobkiewicz said that with half of the general fund budget spent on police and fire “I think we have to look at service reductions if we’re not going to have a corresponding increase in revenue.”
Asked by a resident if he didn’t think that the safety of residents mattered, Bobkiewicz said he wasn’t saying that, but that “in difficult budget times we have to make choices.”