Finding the solution for city budget woes: A job for superman?

Erin Ailworth

In the sky: It’s a bird, it’s a plane — it’s the Super Aldermen swooping in to save the day.

If the Evanston City Council is Superman, City Manager Roger Crum is Lex Luthor. And his 2003 budget proposal, complete with $3.5 million deficit, is a whopping handful of kryptonite.

Throughout the budget bickering, city programs and employees have been riding a yo-yo of “Will they or won’t they?”

And no one is safe from the budget ax.

“Everyone is belt tightening — the state, the nation,” said Cmdr. Michael Perry of Evanston Police Department, which faces budget cuts. “It’s like everybody else. You just have to do more with less.”

But the aldermen have not been defeated. Their heroics — either timely interventions or well-planned political maneuvering — may save the day.

Ald. Gene Feldman’s (9th) introduced a budget amendment in late January that may rescue the South Branch Library, 949 Chicago Ave., for another year. Feldman’s proposal estimates higher parking fine revenues and increases the parking tax and room housing fees.

The council unanimously voted in early February to maintain the arts in Evanston. The Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., will retain its city subsidy and service requirement in exchange for a modest rent increase.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) has thrown his might behind saving the Robert Crown Skate Park, pledging to secure the $18,000 needed to keep the facility.

And this week, the city found $200,000 between its couch cushions, which may help reduce taxes or restore services. The extra funds come from a re-evaluation of city revenues and expenditures.

But will these Band-Aids actually fix the problem, or will it just be more of the same next year?

Take the South Branch Library, which has been threatened multiple times but is always saved. The closure this year would save the city about $133,000. The equivalent of about two full-time library positions also would be lost.

Evanston resident Eliezer Margolis said the constant South Branch debate puts the library in eternal limbo.

“The community and staff keeps getting traumatized,” he said. “Why put everybody through that if you are going to keep pulling the bacon out of the fire?”

Sally Schwarzlose, the manager of the South Branch, said the situation is a “particularly hard” one for employees because this is the second year in a row that the branch has been threatened with closure.

“It doesn’t affect the service, it’s just really hard on the employees,” she said.

Schwarzlose said circulation numbers are one reason the branch keeps coming under fire. Ithas around 50,000 visits annually, about 29,000 fewer than the North Branch.

“The people at South Branch love their library, just like the people at North Branch love their library, but they don’t check out as many books,” Schwarzlose said.

She said she understands the need for the city to keep its budget in check, especially with the current economic shortfall.

But the uncertainty over the library’s future is still worrisome.

“The loss of the library in the community would be, in all likelihood, a permanent loss,” Schwarzlose said.

And with a $3.5 million deficit, keeping the South Branch — and the rest of the city — intact will take efforts of heroic proportions.

Assistant City Editor Erin Ailworth is a Medill senior. She can be reached [email protected]