Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told residents at a 1st Ward meeting Tuesday night that he doesn’t plan any major moves to outsource city services as part of this fall’s budget process.

City employee unions, fearing a major outsourcing push, have been running ads opposing the concept in a local newspaper.

Bobkiewicz, who has said the city needs to close a several million dollar gap in its budget, said, “because of the quality of life expectations people have in Evanston, there are not a whole lot of opportunities to contract out services.”

He suggested that retaining a sizable staff of public works employees in house gives the city the ability to respond more quickly and aggressively to emergency situations, like this winter’s blizzard and this summer’s windstorms.

He said the switch the city made recently — increasing the share of its sanitation operation handled by contractors — made sense.

“But as far as other large-scale contracting opportunities,” he added, “We’re finding it is probably not going to make financial or service-quality sense.”

There had been discussion of contracting out the rest of the sanitation operation and possibly contracting out forestry operations as well.

When there’s a blizzard, Bobkiewicz added, you don’t want to hear that a contractor “couldn’t get its crews past I-294 to help dig us out.”

He said he may propose to contract out some activities on a smaller scale, “but you’ll not see any proposals for large-scale contracting out with the budget we’re going to present” in early October.

Bobkiewicz said with the city budget strained, outsourcing “is the kind of thing you can’t ignore, if tax dollars are going to be spent responsibly. You put everything on the table to look at, and some things stick, while others don’t.”

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she supported the switch to have Groot Industries pick up garbage in the city while city crews switched to picking up recycling, “but I’m not interested at all in outsourcing all of our sanitation workers.”

She recounted riding with a snow-plow driver during the blizzard. “Those guys are really great,” she said, “I told them, ‘you’re the best ambassadors for the City of Evanston.'”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. No outsourcing diminishes quality of services

    What Wally B says here drips with irony.

    The quality of life expectations people expect in Evanston involves branch libraries, recreation centers the beaches and so on.

    Outsourcing services means a private company rather than the city performs municipal functions – it has nothing to do with losing the quality of life because the services still exist. Closing down branch libraries, recreation and art centers and cutting back lifeguard duty at the beaches diminishes the quality of life Evanstonians expect when they pay premium taxes.

    Wally B. is disingenuous when he implies that our quality of life would diminish if we contract out sanitation and ambulance services. On the contrary, by not contracting out city services Evanston taxpayers will pay more in government union benefits such as annual pay raises and jackpot pensions. Those benefits would no longer be a problem for the City of Evanston if services are outsourced, and it would surely have a positive impact in balancing our bloated budget and perhaps prevent branch library and recreation center closings.

    Wally B. is kowtowing again under the pressure of powerful government unions in Evanston. We've seen him cave in when the Evanston Fire Union sued Evanston last year for laying off three firefighters. This year, the Police Sergeant's Union got a three percent pay raise in contract negotiations. Our City Council directs Wally B. in these budget tactics because most if not all of our aldermen have received government union support.

    Two more government union contracts are under negotiation this year and how much you want to bet they get another juicy pay raise. Why do you suppose these unions are taking out ads opposing outsourcing? Why don't government union employees want to work in the private sector?

    Answer – because they can't influence company owners with campaign donations and voter support.

    In the end the quality of life is diminished when branch libraries close and art centers and city parks are sold to sustain the government union pay raises and pensions. Remember, the largest expenditure by far in the city budget is labor.

    Unions have a stranglehold on our city government. Most union employees don't even live in Evanston or pay Evanston property taxes.

    Oppression can only survive through silence.

  2. Kowtowing

    I realize it's hard for you to accept reality when it does not conform to your right-wing, union-busting fantasy life,  but I assure you, Wally and the Council are kowtowing to no one.  Our union — AFSCME Local 1891 — neither endorsed nor made campaign contributions to any Evanston elected official.  So watch your libelous step Anonymous Al.

    I believe Wally and the Council are trying to make some difficult decisions, including examining whether  further privatization would result in greater expenses in the long run, lack of accountability, and yes quality of services. 



  3. Budget Concerns

    I applaud Mr. Bobkiewicz for appreciating the contributions of our dedicated city workers. For recognizing the money we save because of their knowledge base that makes their response to our needs more efficient than outsourced providers would give us. Yes, having our libraries and recreation areas make Evanston special. But that wouldn't be worth much if the city didn't work. I submit that most citizens don't have any concept of the impact our Public Works employees have on their quality of life, how hard they work for us or how miserable life would be if, for instance, our water and sewer services were interrupted, our streets weren't maintained or the forestry division wasn't around to keep our trees beautiful and our streets clear for emergency equipment. These items are every bit as important as the "visible" services. Part of the reason we have a crisis is because too much money has been spent on "perks" and not enough on maintaining and improving our infrastructure.

    This city functions as well as it does because these men and women are all cross-trained. They care about Evanston. Most grew up here. Many of them are on call for emergencies 24/7 (ask anyone who has had a water main break in the middle of the night the importance of that service). How do you think the snow removal is handled so much better in Evanston than many surrounding communities. And it was slower this year because of cuts in staff and equipment. (Would you be willing to drive a snow plow that is so old the snow comes up through the cab floor?) The same holds true for the storm damage cleanup this summer.

    As for raises, I suggest you do your homework a little more thoroughly. Public works doesn't have a pension shortfall nor do they get the same support as the police and fire personnel in Evanston. Also, do you think a private contractor would be willing to accept unpaid furlough days? Do you think they would be willing to agree to cutting back on their benefits or take a pay reduction so a co-worker's job wouldn't be lost? Or make do because their department is understaffed? If that were the case, Groot wouldn't have renegotiated their contract for another $700,000 less than one year into said contract. Part of that increase will go to pay the wage increase their workers demanded. Part to cover the miscalculation of revenues to be collected from the lawn refuse sticker program.

    Yes, taxes in Evanston are high. Have you looked at your tax bill to see what portion of the tax increases over the past 15 years have gone to the city budget? Take a good look. If you are that concerned about costs in this city and who is getting your money, I suggest you take a look at the school budgets in this town. Latest case in point would be the added $39,000+ per year in retirement benefits given to Superintendent Hardy Murphy. By the way a 10 month school secretary position starts at $27,635 in District 65. For the amount of responsibility and direct contact they have with and for our children, I think things are sadly skewed. Do not misunderstand me, our children are our future. I would, however, prefer to see our money spent on more support staff, teachers and programs and a lot less on administration.

    I've worked for companies that thought outsourcing was the way to save. In actuality it resulted in shoddy work, loss of oversight and added expense to correct the shoddy work performed. If you doubt it have a chat with library staff about the quality of the outsourced night cleaning staff.

    Unfortunately "labor" has become the villain in this country and an easy target to blame for our economic woes. I think it's time we refocus on what are necessary expenses as opposed to luxury expenses.

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