City Council hears resident concerns in first public hearing on 2022 budget


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th). Some residents voiced concern for the proposed $700,000 Evanston Animal Shelter consulting fund at the city budget hearing.

Alex HarrisoN and Shannon Tyler

Residents voiced concerns about the amounts allocated in the city’s proposed 2022 budget for key public buildings and residential facilities Monday during the first of two public hearings.

Many resident questions centered on funding priorities, saying the city was putting nonessential expenditures over health and safety needs like affordable housing and climate action. City staff were present to answer questions and discuss the budget with councilmembers. 

The proposed budget is about $59.6 million greater than the 2021 budget. $30.4 million of that difference is derived from the American Rescue Plan Act — dollars that are earmarked for specific budget categories towards goals including community health and wellbeing and investment in infrastructure.

The proposed budget includes several consulting contracts for property development, including $700,000 for the renovation or replacement of the Evanston Animal Shelter.

Resident Meg Welch said the city shouldn’t spend that much on the animal shelter before constructing a city shelter for those experiencing homelessness.

“People are leaving because we don’t have enough affordable shelter for human families,” Welch said. “I don’t want to be sad when I go into the animal shelter, thinking about how we don’t have enough affordable housing for my friends, or for people who might be forced out eventually, including me someday.”

Former City Council candidate Diane Goldring specifically criticized the increase in maintenance costs for unexpected repairs at the Robert Crown Community Center.

Goldring said parks staff requested funding for additional maintenance staff for the Crown Center at a special council meeting last week, citing wear and tear as more residents use the facility. She said she was concerned to hear the annual maintenance costs allocated for the community center have increased $350,000 from the initial projected cost in 2020.

“Any competent engineer should be able to project maintenance requirements and build the costs into the budget project,” Goldring said. “The more we spend on these shiny objects like Robert Crown, the less we have for other urgent needs like affordable housing, economic development, climate action and the like.” 

Later in the hearing, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) questioned the urgency of the allocation of $500,000 towards tennis court repairs and recommended the city should instead repair the courts in phases.

Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th) pushed to prioritize the repairs,explaining it impacts accessibility for her ward’s residents. 

“For the third year, people in South Evanston are having to drive to North Evanston to play tennis,” Fleming said. “That is an equity issue, even if it’s not the most vulnerable population.” 

The next public budget hearing will be held on Nov. 8. Council has until Dec. 31 to approve a budget for 2022. 

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Twitter: @alexhairysun

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