Library fans would cut cops before books

Library supporters dominated the city’s final community budget workshop Wednesday night, decrying the proposed closure of Evanston’s branch libraries.

Laurie Keenan of the library friends group said branch libraries provide the city "the best bang for the buck."

The Evanston Public Library Friends organization, its demand for increased library spending rebuffed by the Library Board earlier this month, turned out a few dozen of its claimed 2,000 members for the workshop at the Levy Center. 

They proceeded to proclaim libraries the most important of city services. Asked to place stickers by a list of city functions that should be spared from cuts as the city tries to close a $3.5 million budget deficit, they gave what City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz tallied as 53 votes for libraries, compared to 20 for police and 19 for the fire department.

Other top vote getters were senior services at 20 and economic development at 17.

Meeting attendees review a set of answers from staff to questions posed by residents at the first budget workshop.

If the budget gap isn’t closed by spending cuts, it would require an increase of nearly 9 percent in the city’s property tax levy to close it with new revenue, Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said.

So, much of the meeting was taken up with developing a list of suggestions for other ways to close the deficit. Those ideas were then put to a sticker-based vote.

A wall of choices, and a few stickers to mark favorites.

Ideas getting the most votes included:

  • Eliminating township government: 18 votes. The township, a separate governmental entity from the city, has a total annual budget of under $1.3 million, most of which is spent on aid to the indigent. It’s not entirely clear whether under state law it can be eliminated or what steps would be required.
  • Reducing use of outside consultants: 17 votes.
  • Stop funding feasibility studies for private developers: 14 votes. This appeared to be a criticism of Monday’s City Council vote to spend less than $50,000 on a study of the possibility of reusing the former Varsity Theatre building as a performing arts space.
  • Ask Northwestern University to contribute funds to the city’s libraries: 12 votes.
  • Raise library funds with a voluntary extra payment for city vehicle stickers: 10 votes.
  • Rent out vacant space in the Civic Center to other governmental entities: 10 votes. The most likely prospect, Evanston Township, has a long-term lease with a private landlord.
  • Switch city workers to defined-contribution pension plans: 9 votes. This idea would require approval by the state legislature.
  • Sell water to other municipalities: 9 votes. City staff is already working on this concept, which expected to take years to become a reality.

The city manager talks about the upward trend in city pension costs. 

Bobkiewicz promised to have estimates of costs savings for many of the proposed budget-cutting concepts posted to the city website by Friday, where site visitors will be able to vote for their own favorites.

The city also plans to have a marathon replay of budget meeting video tapes on the city’s cable channel from noon Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons seen in the viewfinder of a video camera recording the meeting.

"So if you’re having trouble sleeping any time during those three days," Bobkiewicz said, "Channel 16 is the place to be."

Update 12:50 p.m. 10/1/10: City Manager Bobkiewicz now says technical difficulties with recording Wednesday’s meeting mean the video won’t be available, but that the Evanston Community Media Center’s staff has created a summary of the event to air over the weekend based on the slide presentation and the voting that took place.

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