Evanston kicks around ways to improve budgetary process

Evan Hessel

The Evanston City Council budget committee suggested re-evaluations of costly city operations and an overhaul of the budget process itself as possible ways to reduce spending in next year’s budget.

Prior to Wednesday’s meeting, committee chair Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th) asked the other four committee aldermen and the city budget staff to think of five ways the City Council could cut spending. The city dealt with a nearly $4 million deficit when this year’s budget was approved in February.

Staff from the Management and Budget Department suggested that an overhaul of the actual budget process might increase efficiency. They proposed either changing the city’s fiscal year to correspond with the state and federal fiscal calendars or instituting a two-year budget policy.

The calendar switch would give aldermen a better idea of the actual operating budget from the beginning of the year, said Patrick Casey, director of the Management and Budget Department.

City Manager Roger Crum noted that budget projections can be made accurately two years in advance, allowing aldermen and staff to go through the budget process less frequently.

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) suggested the council discuss abolishing Evanston Township, the administrative area that shares the same borders with the city of Evanston and handles many of Evanston’s general assistance and social services.

The existence of two governing bodies within the same borders confuses residents, Moran said. He also said many of the township’s operations could be handled by the city.

The City Council spends about $65,000 on rent for the township offices, he said.

Moran also suggested the council consider reducing the number of Evanston fire department stations in order to cut operating costs.

“As of now, two stations need to be torn down and rebuilt,” Moran said. “Why not think a little bit about consolidating?”

The Capital Improvement Project, a fund for infrastructure improvements approved annually with the budget, also needs to be examined before the next budget process, Engelman said.

Aldermen should consider collecting all local, state and federal revenue before making large-scale financial commitments, he said.

The next step is focusing investigations into a few of the strategies brought to the table, Casey said. “We have 37 new ideas, which is a great start, but we need to narrow it down to three or five ideas to examine,” he said.

The budget committee might assign aldermen and a few residents to various committees to discuss some of the strategies, Engelman said.