Aldermen begin talks to balance city budget

Dalia Naamani-Goldman

Property taxes must increase and city staffing must be reduced in order to fix next year’s $3 million budget deficit, several aldermen said Wednesday night at an Evanston City Council budget committee meeting.

“This is a real tough thing to confront,” said Ald. Edmund Moran (6th). “We need to look at the functionality of these (jobs) — what are we losing when these positions are eliminated?”

City Council has until March 1 to balance the $74.4 million budget for the 2003-04 fiscal year. City Manager Roger Crum has asked the aldermen for guidance before he submits his own balanced budget proposal on Jan. 1.

When city staff gave the council its initial estimates last week, Crum said the $3 million deficit is merely a bare-bones figure that likely will increase after annual raises for city employees are taken into account.

“It strikes me that we have a lot of work to do,” Moran said.

Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) repeated his suggestion from last week that the balancing act should be evenly split between spending cuts and revenue increases.

“The strategy I would aim at is a fifty-fifty approach,” Newman said. “It’s pretty close to what we tried to do last year.”

Last February the council balanced this year’s budget — and overcame a $4 million deficit — by increasing parking fines and approving a 7.2 percent hike in the city’s portion of property taxes. It also cut funding for several city programs and reduced non-union employees’ raises.

Employee salaries and benefits make up more than 60 percent of the budget. As an example of how job cuts could reduce the budget, Crum told the committee that eliminating 50 positions — 6.4 percent of the city’s 777 employees — would save $2.5 million.

Aldermen have not pinned down a figure for any property tax increase, but those at the meeting said it will be part of the solution.

“There is going to be a significant property tax increase, like last year,” Newman said. “It might not be ten percent, but it is going to be (large).”

Ald. Stephen Engelman (7th) said the council should try to cut back on programs, but not cut programs entirely.

Newman proposed consolidating the human relations and human services departments, which would save $500,000.

He also floated the idea of privatizing the sanitation division. Patrick Casey, the management and budget director, said the move would save $500,000 to $700,000.

Moran said the committee should closely investigate every aspect of the city’s budget.

“We need to know what all people do and look at the functionality of things,” he said.

Of the five budget committee members, only Moran and Engelman attended the meeting. Newman participated even though he is not on the committee.

Moran expressed anger at other committee members’ absence. According to council rules, a committee cannot vote on any matter unless enough aldermen are present.

Next month’s budget committee meeting is scheduled for Nov. 20, but Moran and Engelman said the committee should try to meet again earlier.

“We have a big job to do, so I think the (budget) committee needs to show up,” Moran said. “We need to roll up our sleeves and get to work soon.”

The Daily’s Jon Murray contributed to this report.