Fire Station 4 would stay open but residents would see a two percent property tax increase and city employees would get no general wage hike next year in a compromise budget plan Evanston aldermen will discuss Monday.
The new proposal was developed by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz after several aldermen in budget workshops over the past two weeks said their constituents didn’t want to see the fire station close.
The aldermen also voiced doubts about the size of proposed increases in parking meter fees and about planned Health Department cuts the manager proposed to close a nearly $7.5 million gap in the general fund budget.
The city manager had already proposed not giving any 2019 pay hike to non-union employees for a savings of $345,000.
Eliminating the pay hikes for union workers would save just over $1 million.
The city is currently in contract talks with all of its unions, and they haven’t yet agreed to the wage freeze.
However, in an interview earlier this week, Billy Lynch, president of the firefighters union local, said he was “fully committed” to coming up with “a viable solution that helps reduce the deficit” while keeping Fire Station 4 open.
While declining to offer any specifics, he said the union was making “really good progress with the city in identifying tangible solutions to the problem.”
In addition to the property tax hike, the new budget plan bakes in $700,000 in projected new revenue from the increase in the real estate transfer tax that voters narrowly approved in a referendum Tuesday.
Bobkiewicz had previously said aldermen had told him they didn’t think residents could afford a property tax hike this year after the big tax hike voters approved for School District 65 last year.
But Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, at Monday’s City Council meeting, said constituents were telling him they’d accept a tax hike targeted for public safety purposes to keep the fire station open.
The new compromise budget would scrap the plan to permanently eliminate the nine firefighter positions needed to staff Engine 4. Eight of those positions were already vacant.
Instead the new plan would hold open just four firefighter positions in 2019 and add $225,000 to the budget for fire department overtime to fill in for those vacant slots.
It also calls for spending $20,000 to hire a consultant to conduct a study of Fire Department operations in hopes of finding ways to operate more efficiently after Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, on Monday suggested exploring whether the department’s deployment model — which now has all firefighters working 24 hour shifts — could be changed to tailor staffing to the varying need for service at different times of day.
Other changes in the latest version of the budget include:
- Keeping four police officer positions vacant rather than eliminating five vacant positions.
- Reducing the planned increase in the $1 hourly parking meter rate from $1 to $0.50.
- Seeking to bring in an extra $400,000 a year by increasing the rate charged insurance companies for ambulance runs.
- Adding two parking enforcement officers at a cost of $180,000 in the expectation that they’ll bring in $400,000 in new ticket revenue
Overall the new plan shifts dramatically toward increasing revenue rather than reducing expenses as a strategy for closing the deficit.
Previously 57 percent of the budget gap was to be closed by cutting expenses. Under the new plan 63 percent of the gap will be closed by increasing taxes, fines and fees.