The Mayor’s Budget Task Force this week tiptoed into the touchy topic of privatizing city services.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons told the group that Evanston already has privatized several programs.

The Mayor’s Budget Task Force this week tiptoed into the touchy topic of privatizing city services.

Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons told the group that Evanston already has privatized several programs.

As examples he noted that management of city-owned parking garages is handled by a private contractor, engineering for major road repair projects is contracted out, the city contracts with Downtown Evanston to promote the downtown business district and it has worked with a variety of private groups to provide affordable housing.

Lyons offered examples of towns that he said have gone much further down the privatization road.

“Glenview is privatizing left and right,” he said, saying that suburb has even hired an outside accounting firm to do all its finanical reports.

Other communities, he said, have outside engineering firms do the building inspections that are performed by city workers in Evanston.

And some have outsourced their ambulance services, although he added that a community that he previously worked for had decided to take ambulance service back in house after deciding that the cost of increased employee turnover outweighed the immediate payroll savings.

Some other towns have even outsourced outreach and counseling services that Evanston provides through its police department, Lyons added.

Lyons said his list wasn’t meant as a set of recommendations — just examples of what other communities have done.

Committee member Steve Engelman, a former 7th Ward alderman, said that objections to privatization come partly from concern about maintaining control over how a job is done, and partly from the ability that providing the service in-house gives towns to assure that more local residents are hired for the jobs.

City workers who live in town, he said, spend more of their wages in Evanston, helping stimulate the city’s economy.

And committee member Jeanne Lindwall, a planning consultant and former city planning staffer, said that, as part of its privatization push, Glenview outsourced all of its plan reviews to a company in Iowa.

“So those dollars are not even spent in the state,” she added.

But Lyons said that the city could make hiring city residents a condition of an outsourcing contract.

Lyons noted that the city is also looking at options for “in-sourcing” work from other municipalities in hopes of spreading out costs and increasing net city revenue.

Those options range from selling water to more communities to collaborating on fire protection and 911-dispatch services.

The Tuesday night meeting ended without any clear indication of whether the committee was inclined to pursue any particular outsourcing concept. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. Sounds like a plan
    Privatizing sounds like a good idea, but only if the best companies are hired, not just the ones who use Evanston workers.

    Making it an Evanston-worker-only decision sounds like a recipe for cronyism.

  2. I am all for outsourcing.
    I am all for outsourcing. Why not start with the garbage pickup and save $500,000 / year. Outsourcing should go to the best qualified whether they live in Evanston or not.

  3. Outsourcing really is great
    Privatization is the way to go for sure since cronyism and corruption never occur in the private sector. If there is anything that we learned from how a mostly privatized FEMA handled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and how BP handled (just the other day) the Oil spill clean-up in the Gulf of Mexico is that, when left alone, private industry always does a better (and C-H-E-A-P-E-R, puh-lease) job than a well trained, well paid civil service corps comprised of your neighbors.

    Besides, I think Blackwater is looking for something to do. Bernie Madoff could be our City Budget Director. Maybe we could hire Golddman Sachs to sell us some mortgage backed securities to solve our pension problems.

    And as for hiring Evanston workers, I don’t even see why we should hire American workers. How much English do you need to know to drive an ambulance or write a parking ticket anyway?

  4. Privatization of Public Services
    Privatization leads to less accountability and reduced quality of service. Ask the city of Atlanta who tried the privatization of water services and reversed its decision due to a severe reduction in services and increased costs. Evanstonians rejected the privatization of sanitation services in the past. When it was last attempted during the tenure of Roger Crum as City Manager, thousands of Evanstonians from all sections of Evanston signed petitions in support of the service provided by City employees.

  5. Competition brings better services at lower costs
    For those who are saying privatization leads to less accountability, quality and nepotism of all things, I say four words – public unions, no competition.

    Competition brings out the best – always has, always will. Companies in the private sector invest their OWN capital and compete with other private companies. The best survive. Government does no such thing.

    So it stands to reason you will find more qualified accountants, engineers, ambulance services and so on in the private sector. That’s what they do – specialized services.

    My guess is the main objection of Evanston privatizing services is it would have a direct affect on the city employee unions. In fact, City Aldermen are on record saying so.

    The fact that every city alderman and the mayor are Democrats and have received union campaign money, I won’t hold my breath that Evanston would do the fiscally sensible thing and privatize as much as they can and then cut back on city staff, providing tax relief for overtaxed residents.

    Nope. Our city taxes will probably increase as will our property and income taxes as homeowners survive the fourth year of a severe recession with state unemployment near 12 percent.

    1. Contracting out garbage
      Those who wish to enquire further into the subject of privatization of city services should read this article by Moshe Adler.

      Adler’s conclusion:
      ” We have learned the hard way, however, that using government employees to do the job is actually the cheapest and most cost effective way to achieve a clean city. “

    2. Not so fast
      I agree with you, Al. However, I think this is different. The problem with privatizing government services in this situation, if I understand correctly, is that there will be a lack of competition. In essence, the city is granting a monopoly to a private company. And without the needed competition prices are sure to go up up up…unless prices are written into the contract they sign with the city. In that case, then, I have to imagine that they wouldn’t survive.

      The worst part of this kind of arrangement is that when prices do go up and service quality goes down the market becomes an easy target for all the haters.

  6. The point is to save money, not government jobs
    Andrew,

    How many engineering and accounting firms are there that handle work contracted out by a government entity? Certainly more than one or two – probably in the realm of at least a dozen. These firms would be competing for the city’s business.

    If the city writes a good contract, then the city could void a contract if the work is poor or the firm raises it’s price and then hire another firm.

    It’s common practice for cities to terminate contracts and hire competing firms. Private companies hired by government entities certainly do not have a monopoly unless there are some shenanigans going on with city officials (see Chicago and Cook County).

    There are some cases where I don’t think privatizing is wise – think of Chicago selling its parking meters and highway.

    It really surprises and concerns me that people like Lindwall, a planning consultant, seems hung up about money going to an out-of-state company. Or Engelmann and Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons’ suggestion to “make hiring city residents a condition of an outsourcing contract.”

    The point is to SAVE money – that should be the priority not putting conditions on companies to hire Evanston residents or to limit outsourcing to only local companies.

    The concerns raised by Lindwall, Engelman and Lyons would not hold water in a corporate board room, and would raise the ire of stockholders or in this case – Evanston residents.

    If there were a genuine concern about the city keeping jobs in Evanston, then perhaps Lindwall, Engelmann and Lyons should require all city employees live in Evanston. Certainly that would stimulate the city’s economy.

    Again, I won’t be holding my breath for that to ever happen. In fact, I’m out of breath after reading constant news of city officials making poor fiscal decisions that favor government unions over the interests of Evanston residents.

  7. conditions on location of company or employee – a bad idea
    To set conditions on where a company must be located or where employees must live, something that is in no way connected to the service or product being offered, is to deliberately limit the quality of the services rendered for an intangible benefit that seems to be a good idea but really isn’t.

    What all citizens deserve is the best specific service or specific product for their tax dollars, period. What potential employees want is the widest field of potential employers bidding for the work to be done.

    An attempt to help Evanston by choosing only from Evanstonians for employment is to benefit the few citizens that get the work based on a qualification that has nothing to do with that work they will do – and at the cost to all citizens who would otherwise have the benefit of a wider field from which to choose, never a bad thing.

    If this local qualification were applied by other communities, Evanstonians would find no public agency work except in Evanston.

    Rather than a double-win for Evanston, it is a triple-lose

    1) the best person or company doesn’t get the job unless by coincidence he/she/it is located in Evanston and
    2) the product/service provider base being limited, the taxpayer pays more because the bidder has no need to bid low – he/she or it (a company) is in Evanston.
    3) under local-only rules, why would any company locate in any but the largest cities with the greatest amount of work?

    Where is the best level of play seen? In intramural games (in the school only), in a conference game (between schools of the region) or at the state championship?

    Location limitations are a self-inflicted handicap, like putting on a ball and chain before attempting a jump at the basket.

    I rest my case.

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