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Workers to learn whose jobs are in jeopardy

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says he plans to meet later this week with city employees whose jobs he will recommend eliminating from next year’s city budget.

Bobkiewicz told reporters at the Civic Center Monday night that he will let the employees know about his plans before he publicly releases an outline of his budget proposal late Friday.

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says he plans to meet later this week with city employees whose jobs he will recommend eliminating from next year’s city budget.

Bobkiewicz told reporters at the Civic Center Monday night that he will let the employees know about his plans before he publicly releases an outline of his budget proposal late Friday.

The budget must close a projected $8 million gap in the city’s $90 million general fund budget.

The layoff plans, if they are adopted by the City Council, would likely take effect no sooner than the start of the new fiscal year, March 1.

At Monday’s council meeting several council members suggested that the city may need to take drastic action to respond to the burdens created by the shortfall in public safety pension funding, which Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said has now grown to $158 million, up from about $145 million a year ago.

The need for growing pension payments is a major factor in the city’s overall budget shortfall.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said it appears that the growing pension debt is on a collision course with the city’s ability to pay.

"We need to try to find a way to find some relief from the state," Jean-Baptiste said, "or eventually there may have to be some civilians providing some of the services we now have sworn officers providing."

"I’m not advocate that," he said, "but it’s an objective fact."

Lyons said the city’s actuary has provided a 30-year projection of pension costs, and it shows an increasing portion of the budget being devoted to the public safety pensions.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said there’s a need to look at alternatives to the current pension system, including getting away from defined benefit plans.

"I’m not looking to take away anything that somebody’s already entitled to, but we need to take a fresh look," Wilson added.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said she attended a meeting of mayors with Gov. Pat Quinn Monday at which the mayors concluded that current pension plans are unsustainable.

"We need to either radically reform pensions, or radically reform how police and fire services are provided," the mayor said.

She suggested the possibility of providing a different pension program for new hires or providing fire service on a regional basis, rather than organizing it primarily based on town boundaries.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she’d like to hear from the city’s fire and police pension boards what they would propose, given the financial situation faced by communities like Evanston.

"Many of them live in our community," Rainey said. "They own homes, they know we can’t add an additional $10 million to our taxes to begin to resolve the problem."

But she said that when she’s had conversations with public safety employees, "changing the pension rules has not been well received by them."

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