Residents, aldermen concerned about eliminating city positions

Kimberly Railey

For Ald. Don Wilson (4th), the hardest part of crafting Evanston’s 2012 budget is deliberating measures that directly affect someone’s livelihood. Amid concerns about fiscal responsibility and the possible elimination of some city positions, he said that task has become more challenging.

But when motions arose at Saturday’s budget meeting to reinstate positions for five forestry workers, a parking supervisor and an information technology specialist, Wilson voted no. His action mirrored that of the majority of council members who in 5-3 and 6-2 votes rejected reversing the proposed layoffs due to other budget uncertainties.

“It was premature to make that kind of decision until we have looked at other aspects of the budget – some of the other things that maybe can be eliminated as far as funded items,” Wilson said.

The two motions reflected a much larger conversation on the city’s 2012 budget, proposed Oct. 7by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. The budget – including a near 8 percent property tax hike, a $2.4 million deficit and the elimination of 13 city positions – must be adopted by aldermen Nov. 28.

Four of those 13 positions represent forestry workers, whose work could instead be outsourced, Bobkiewicz said. He also called for removing a forest division secretary position and said its duties could be assumed by Evanston’s 311 call center and existing personnel.

Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department staff warned against those moves, stating in a memo these proposals would hinder storm response operations and delay administrative duties.

“Even with the proposed increased use of technology, there are many work tasks that cannot be done other than by having a person physically in the office on a full-time basis,” the memo states.

Wilson said the foremost concern of most community members, gauged from feedback aggregated by the city manager’s office, is the potential elimination of programs and services.

Seth Green, executive director of Youth Organizations Umbrella,, said any cuts to social services would strangle efforts to “meet the growing needs of the community.” He cited an increase of 450 to 607 children and teens that his nonprofit helped in 2010 and 2011, respectively.

“Many social service agencies are struggling with the double whammy of huge increases in demand and cuts in state funding,” Green said. “This recession has pushed so many more families into needing new services, so now as a community is the time to really invest in social services.”

Currently, Y.O.U. is striving to maintain support from the city’s mental health board to prevent any cuts to funding as council members proceed into the next stage of budget considerations, Green said. The organization is not “taking that for granted,” he added.

Childcare Network of Evanston was also able to secure the funds it requested, executive director Martha Arnston said. Arnston said although the agency is still “inadequately funded,” she appreciates the money the city has allocated thus far.

“Given the economic times, I think it’s as much as we can expect,” she said. “We’re happy to be funded at all.”

As council members enter the home stretch of budget deliberations, Wilson said they are committed to completing their tasks on time.

“When it comes to the budget, we’re never in a good spot,” he said. “But you have to finish in time. You have to stay all night – whatever it takes – to get it done.”

Aldermen are slated to continue their budget discussion at the next council meeting 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

Susan Du contributed reporting.

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