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Media center reported flush with cash

Federal tax documents show the Evanston Community Media Center recently had cash reserves totalling more than 86 percent of its annual budget.

The group’s leaders had claimed at a budget hearing two weeks ago that a proposed $200,000 reduction in the $440,000 it receives from the city annually would force it close this year.

Federal tax documents show the Evanston Community Media Center recently had cash reserves totalling more than 86 percent of its annual budget.

The group’s leaders had claimed at a budget hearing two weeks ago that a proposed $200,000 reduction in the $440,000 it receives from the city annually would force it close this year.

But federal tax returns located by city officials show the group has added an average of $90,000 to its reserves in each of the last three years for which tax data is publicly available. The group’s total reserves as of June 30, 2008, amounted to nearly $585,000. with $336,000 in cash and cash equivalents.

Assistant City Finance Director Steve Drazner noted that if the city — which is struggling to keep its general fund balance above a one-month reserve level — had cash reserves proportionate to the media center’s, it would have $81 million of its approximately $90 million general fund budget in reserve.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said "that’s a huge fund balance for a non-profit."

The media center’s executive director, Steve Bartlebaugh, told aldermen at the budget workshop today that the group could manage to survive this year with a $100,000 cut and that the group was open to the idea of moving to rent-free space that might be provided by the city or Evanston Township High School.

Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said he favors sticking with the $200,000 cut proposed by the city manager and Burrus and Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said they agreed with him.

Only Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, voiced some doubts about the cut and asked for more information about how realistic it would be to house ECMC in city-owned facilities.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said city staff has considered two possible city-owned locations for the media center — the Civic Center and the main library. He said there may be some issues regarding electrical capacity at the Civic Center, but he doesn’t believe that would be an issue at the library.

Bobkiewicz said the media center has also had talks with the high school, which is interested in hosting the media center, since the center’s equipment is better than what the high school has for the broadcast classes it teaches.

The media center now pays $95,000 a year in rent for office space in a privately owned building at 1285 Hartrey Ave.

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