Hit up to give some money to Evanston’s First Night celebration, Evanston aldermen got into a wide-ranging debate about the project this week before agreeing to have taxpayers cough up the dough.
It started with Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who complained about the request for $5,000 from the city — which the non-profit group said would be used to cover the cost of event admission buttons to be distributed to low-income residents through several other non-profit groups.
The pitch from Stuart Rosenberg of First Night to make the event “more inclusive” didn’t sit well with Burrus, who said “the city gives so much money to non-profits now” that she hesitated to give them more.
Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, defended the idea — saying the benefit would go to individual residents and the money was just proposed to be funneled through the agencies,
Alderman Ann Rainey.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said the extra buttons for the poor shouldn’t cost $5,000.
It costs First Night nothing extra to have more people show up for events, Rainey said. The production costs are fixed.
“Really all you’re doing is asking us to give $5,000 to support the event. I understand that,” Rainey said. “If you need $5,000 to support it, just ask for it.”
But Burrus said she objected to making a donation when the overall budget for the event has nearly doubled from last year — the first year that the local New Year’s Eve celebration was revived after a gap of several years.
Last year the aldermen allocated $10,000 to help revive the celebration.
Burrus also said the request was tardy and complained that the group’s budget was insufficiently detailed.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he had been discussing plans for First Night since August but didn’t get a request from the group for financial help until last week. Last year aldermen approved the funding request in July.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he supported the funding request but would like to see more budget detail in the future.
And Braithwaite suggested the group should make more effort to use local vendors, although Rosenberg said the event will have a big representation of Evanston-based talent.
With that, Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested asking local talent to volunteer their services on First Night, to help cut the program’s cost.
Despite the complaints, aldermen ended up approving the $5,000 donation 8-1, with only Burrus voting against it.