Summer in Evanston: City faces significant budget losses, Council discusses reimagining of EPD


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Over the summer, City Council discussed budgetary concerns related to the COVID-19 recession and the possibility of defunding or reimagining Evanston Police Department.

Jacob Fulton, City Editor

Amid a COVID-19-driven recession and mass business closures, Evanston faces significant budget losses

After a pandemic prompted statewide stay-at-home orders, mask mandates and social distancing requirements last spring, the city of Evanston braced for impact.

In June, the city’s Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai and Budget Coordinator Kate Lewis-Lakin projected a revenue loss of $12 million from the city’s 2020 budget — which has prompted significant budgetary cuts, including the implementation of a city-wide hiring freeze. The city was also able to agree with multiple unions on multiple furlough days to cut costs.

The decreases in revenue come as a result of lower income for a variety of sectors, including hotels, retailers and restaurants. Because of these changes, the city will see a drop in funding from taxes. However, Lewis-Lakin said the city was prepared for the pandemic’s impact on hotel and restaurant industries — despite the uncertainty of many factors, including Northwestern football.

“We’re assuming lower use of hotels (and) lower sales tax revenues, sort of across the board, through the end of the year, so we’re not sure we’re going to see a major impact that we weren’t already projecting,” Lewis-Lakin said at a June City Council meeting.

To counteract the losses, Mayor Steve Hagerty has also continued to seek additional funding for the city through coronavirus relief funds. Though Congress remains at a standstill during discussions of a second COVID-19 relief package, Hagerty said Monday that he remains optimistic about the possibility of more funding from outside sources.

These budgetary discussions come amid significant changes to the Evanston economic landscape, despite multiple city-implemented economic aid programs. Paul Zalmezak, the city’s economic development manager, said approximately 70 businesses have closed since the beginning of the year, 40 of which were explicitly pandemic-related.

Council moves toward reimagining Evanston Police Department

A summer full of protests and calls to defund police departments nationwide has brought the discussion surrounding police influence to Evanston.

After a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25, Evanston activists called on City Council to address the systemic discrimination the city’s black residents face — especially through the redistribution of policing funds to instead support programs supporting black residents.

Soon after, Hagerty announced a series of Q&As to be streamed on the city’s platforms in which he explained the role of policing in Evanston and discussed possible ways to reimagine the impact Evanston Police Department has on the city.

In July, The Daily reported that a slight majority of aldermen were willing to commit to defunding EPD, and all seven of the aldermen who spoke to The Daily said they wanted a public reexamination of EPD’s budget. However, despite having a majority of members in support of defunding, it seems City Council’s next step may not be the reallocation of all police funds. 

Instead, a pilot program for an alternative emergency response unit will be on the table for the 2021 budget, which will be released in October. City manager Erika Storlie estimated the city could allocate $200,000 for the program, Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) said during a Sept. 2 Human Services Committee meeting.

During the meeting, the committee voted to recommend the inclusion of the funding in the 2021 budget to the entirety of council. Additionally, a subcommittee was formed to flesh out the details of the program, as well as its costs — which, Fleming said, could exceed the planned $200,000.

Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said the committee will look for support from the entire City Council as discussions begin around the state of the program and its impact on the 2021 budget.

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Twitter: @jacobnfulton

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Human Services Committee to recommend an alternative emergency response pilot in 2021 budget