To hear members of Evanston’s Library Board tell it, the library has been unfairly singled out for budget cuts by a City Council that just doesn’t understand the importance of library services. That’s the justification the board now gives for pushing to impose its own tax levy on Evanston residents.
To test that theory, Evanston Now decided to look at how spending levels have changed for various city services over the past nine years.
Why look back nine years? Simply because that was as far back as the data goes that’s available on the budget section of the city’s website.
It turns out that the library has seen its budget increase over those years by more than 12 percent.
It’s not done as well in the competition for budget dollars as some departments, but it has done better than others.
The overall increase in general fund spending — 19.7 percent — has fallen just short of the 21 percent increase in the cost of living during that time.
Looking at the change in spending in absolute dollar terms makes clear that the big winners in the competition for city dollars have been the police and fire departments.
Their combined share of general fund spending has risen from $25.5 million to $34.1 million over the eight year period — the result of a consensus on the City Council that public safety is an essential government function and one that is exceedingly difficult politically to cut. (And that doesn’t include rapidly increasing public safety pension payments, which are not part of the general fund.)
The spending on parks, recreation, forestry, facilities and other programs now grouped under the Parks Department has risen from $12.2 million to $16.8 million. (The 2002-03 number for parks should arguably be a bit higher, because parks has also absorbed some functions that fell under the health department in the past, but it’s difficult to determine just how much to add for that.)
Aldermen have recently beefed up spending on development-related activities — in what’s now called the Community and Economic Development Department — as they’ve concluded that the city needs stronger economic development efforts to help strengthen its economy during economic hard times.
What’s labeled “General services” on the charts encompasses city functions including the City Council itself, the city clerk’s office, the city manager’s office, the legal department and the department now known as Administrative Services, which combines finance, human resources and personnel functions.
Overall, that category of spending has lost ground over the past eight years — but not as much as the Health Department, which has seen its functions reduced and its budget trimmed by nearly 47 percent.
So, have aldermen been unfairly singling out the library for cuts in a time of financial stress on the city’s budget? That’s for you to decide.
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, we’ve now received copies of the presentations made by members of the Library Board and its sustainable funding task force at their recent public forums. Here are copies of the presentations.
Update 7:00 p.m. 9/12/10:
Our friends at the Evanston Public Library Friends have noted one complicating factor in assessing the trend in city spending by department since 2002-03.
It is that, starting with the 2007-08 fiscal year, the city included in individual departmental budgets certain fringe benefit costs which had previously been lumped into general administrative overhead.
Those costs include Social Security, Medicare and Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund contributions.
The impact of that change across departments is seen in the chart below, which shows the percentage change in general fund spending by department before the change, during the year of the change and in the years since.
The accounting change had two primary impacts.
One was a large decline in the percentage of the budget devoted to “general services” — the category that had carried all those fringe benefit costs for the entire city staff in prior years.
The other is that — because most fire and police department employees are not covered by those fringe benefit programs, but most workers in other city departments are — the change resulted in a one-year decline in the percentage of the city budget allocated to fire and police — as the benefit costs allocated to other departments rose.
The following chart shows the dollar amount of spending by each department or cluster of departments during 2002-03, during the transition years of 2006-07 and 2007-08 and this year.
It also appears we confused the library friends by not specifying in the original story that our “Health” category included all the city’s “Health and Human Services” functions, including the now dissolved Human Relations Department that was folded into the Health and Human Services Department a few years ago. In addition, the departments’ human services functions have recently been drastically cut back and remnants of them have been relocated to the Parks Department.
So, if we were to compile a list of the city departments that have been treated more harshly than the library over the past nine years we would have to include:
- The Human Relations Department — completely abolished.
- The Health and Human Services Department — dramatically reduced in the scope of its functions and budget.
Some might argue that other units — including ones like Facilities Management and Management and Budget — which have lost their status as independent departments — might also be considered losers.
Relative winners are the police and fire departments, whose budgets have grown dramatically over the past nine years, largely as a result of pay increases for a relatively stable number of employees, while most other departments have seen their staffing number cut significantly
The Parks Department may also be on the winners list — although it has added some additional functions during the period — including absorbing the remaining staff of the former Facilities Management Department — that make direct comparisons more difficult. Parks also recovers a substantial portion of its costs through fees for services — making it proportionately less dependent than units like the library on property tax revenue.