Disagreements Ensue In Balancing City Budget

By Ketul Patel and Megan CrepeauThe Daily Northwestern

The Evanston City Council discussed ways to fix the city’s annual budget deficit of $2.5 million to $4 million during a Saturday budget workshop.

City Manager Julia Carroll, who put together the 2007-08 budget proposal, said she wants to make Evanston stronger in the long term by overhauling the city’s structure and filling the gap in city funds. The total operating budget is $186,769,007, representing a 0.26 percent increase over the 2006-07 budget. This increase is the lowest increase in the overall budget for at least the past 10 years, Carroll said.

Individual taxpayers will see a 1.08 percent increase in their tax bills. Carroll said city staff tried to keep this increase low because residents are taxed by entities other than the city. The city’s share of total property taxes would increase by 5.5 percent.

“A majority of the council wanted to keep property tax increase as low as possible,” Carroll said. “We try to be sensitive to (the existence of other taxing entities) when we put together our budget.”

The council also discussed hiring additional crossing guards in order to avoid using parking enforcement officers as crossing guards. Parking officers occasionally served as crossing guards because of a shortage. The diversion of these officers from their stated jobs, along with the increased availability of garage parking, can account for an expected decrease of $490,000 in revenue from parking tickets, according to the proposed budget. The cost of employing additional crossing guards, including benefits and safety equipment, is $51,000.

Ald. Edmund Moran (6th) said he did not think it was necessary to recoup the losses from fewer parking tickets. People might choose to go to Skokie’s Old Orchard Shopping Center instead of downtown Evanston if they become annoyed with parking fines, he said.

“If there was any place I would take a hit in revenues, it’s parking fines,” he said. “I feel the number of parking tickets we write is a drag on our economy.”

But Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) and Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) disagreed, saying the loss of revenue was significant for the city.

“We’re not being petty here,” Rainey said. “Five hundred thousand dollars covers the loss of several jobs. It doesn’t matter where the money’s coming from.”

Jean-Baptiste also said he was concerned about the loss of jobs due to the proposed outsourcing of some clinical health services to Evanston Hospital, Saint Francis Hospital, Planned Parenthood and other organizations. He asked if the hospitals would absorb any of the city staff that would be laid off.

“I’m not interested in people losing their livelihood,” he said. “I’d like to see whatever we’re doing in that light.”

Ald. Anjana Hansen (9th) said she was concerned about whether the private health care providers would be able to treat in a timely manner patients who currently use the city’s services. She also said she was worried about how many of the city’s patients will be absorbed by the private institutions.

Ald. Elizabeth Tisdahl (7th) said the hospitals have been clear about their capabilities regarding the possible new patients.

“Both hospitals have been absolutely marvelous and terrifically helpful in this endeavor,” she said.

Jean-Baptiste questioned the reasoning behind hiring five more police officers while cutting funding for youth employment programs.

“Are we fighting what we need to fight?” he asked. “Are we addressing what we need?”

Carroll said the city did not have enough revenue to run the youth employment program. The proposed budget sets aside $150,000 for the creation of a new full-time youth coordinator position to replace some of the programs being cut. Aldermen requested more details about how the city is addressing the problem of juvenile crime.

Reach Ketul Patel at [email protected] and Megan Crepeau at [email protected]

Budget Changes-Taxes will increase by .26 percent, the lowest increase in the past 10 years-The city could hire more crossing guards to keep parking enforcement officers on their beats and writing tickets-A new youth coordinator position will replace the youth employment program -Some clinical healthcare services might be outsourced to area hospitals