Evanston releases proposed 2013 budget

Susan Du, City Editor

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz released the proposed budget for next year on Friday. City officials say the budget gap in 2013 will be the smallest in years, due to the city’s continued efforts to slash excess expenditures and make daily operations more efficient.

Funds total $248,034,384, with proposed revenues valued at $232,217,592. The proposed deficit is $15,816,792. The general fund, which accommodates day-to-day needs that don’t fit into special purpose funds such as parking, water and sewer services, is estimated to comprise $84,138,051 in revenues and $85,079,401 in expenditures, with a total deficit of $941,350.

Bobkiewicz has also recommended to the Evanston City Council the addition of five full- and part-time positions and the elimination of nine, six of which are currently vacant. In effect, the budget proposal suggests decreasing the city staff by five full-time positions, according to a city news release. Two of the three occupied positions to be slashed fall in the Community and Economic Development division, and one belongs to Administrative Services.

“Although the prevailing economic climate has shown some signs of improvement during the past year, the national economy remains an area of concern,” Bobkiewicz said in the news release. “The performance of the national economy impacts the city in numerous ways including local employment, housing and economic development.”

Proposed budget expenditures decreased by $10,825,609 from fiscal year 2012 to 2013. Assistant City Manager Martin Lyons described the proposed budget’s general fund deficit of $941,350 as the smallest gap in years at the second ward meeting Thursday night, according to Evanston Now.

The 2013 proposed budget incorporated citizen input. Through the Engage Evanston initiative, an outreach effort to encourage community discussion of the city’s budget-drafting process, residents were able to comment on budget priorities by mail, photo and a variety of social media websites. The city hosted a citizen budget input session and community outreach event to gauge public opinion of the proposed budget.

Moody’s and Fitch rating agencies gave Evanston an AAA credit rating, but certain city funds continue to struggle with debt. The city’s sewer fund proposed issuing $4 million in general obligation debt in the next year, and Capital Projects will face approximately $5.9 million in new debt, according to the proposed budget report.

Other liabilities of concern for the city are the police and firefighters pension funds, which remain under 50 percent funded. The proposed 2013 contribution to these funds is $8,109,454 and $6,126,383 respectively, to create funded ratios of 45.6 percent and 45.3 percent. The 2013 state minimum contribution is $5,970,034 and $4,412,942 for police and fire pension funds, although Evanston’s proposed budget provides for an additional $3.9 million.

In addition to staff reductions, the city will also make efforts to make daily operations more efficient. For example, the city’s Fire and Life Safety Services is currently building a partnership with the Skokie Fire Department to share its fire training facility. Utilizing the Skokie facility will allow Evanston to maintain standards of training personnel without having to build and maintain a new training facility, which is estimated to cost more than $871,000, according to the proposed budget.

City officials will review the proposed budget at the city council meeting Oct. 29 and will adopt it by Nov. 19.