City department heads pitch ARPA employee additions in 2022 budget


Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd). Councilmembers heard pitches from department heads Monday on using ARPA funds to hire new city staff members.

Alex Harrison, Reporter

Department heads from Evanston’s city government made their cases to use federal relief funding for new employee positions in the 2022 budget at a special City Council meeting Monday.

The city published its proposed 2022 budget online last Monday, which includes requests for new employees in four departments. These positions would be budgeted through the next year using funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, which gave Evanston a $43 million emergency grant to help recover from the pandemic. ARPA funds are a one-time payment, so they will not be available in next year’s budget.

Director of Community Development Johanna Nyden requested additional staff to help process permit applications for constructions or renovations. In the past, the department needed to bring in cross-trained staff members to keep up with new applicants. Nyden added that funds could be used to update the digital application process.

“What we are operating on is like if you still have the iPhone 2, and you’ve never done any updates,” Nyden said. “I think we’ve had (the software) for 15 years. We’ve never invested in it, we’ve never made any improvements to the workflow.”

Many of the requested positions were for maintenance and upkeep of city facilities. These include building managers, Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning engineers, custodians, arborists, a lakefront manager and a Zamboni driver for the Robert Crown Community Center’s ice rinks.

Director of Parks, Recreation & Community Services Lawrence Hemingway said the understaffing in his department leaves some buildings empty, necessitating frequent shuffling of staff members.

“Right now I am juggling bodies from building to building,” Hemingway said. “I have a person currently at Levy who’s trying to keep the building clean and run over to the Ecology Center. It’s just not an efficient way, but it’s all we have.”

Hemingway added Robert Crown’s maintenance needs are expected to rise entering 2022, as the building settles more than a year and a half after construction completed. He said they also expect more wear and tear as more residents use the facility.

Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) said the city’s widespread understaffing problem needs to be addressed quickly and with compassion, so as to avoid further burnout and departures among city staff.

“Our staff is tired,” Braithwaite said. “Many of our staff are able to help, but there’s really no human way to understand that unless you take the time to have the conversation.”

Two public hearings on the 2022 budget will occur during regular City Council meetings: a Budget Public Hearing on Oct. 25, and a Truth in Taxation Hearing on Nov. 8. The council will then have just under six weeks between Nov. 22 and Jan. 1, 2022 to pass a final budget for the new year. 

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