Evanston’s proposed 2013 budget, released Friday, includes cuts to city staff and services in anticipation of a nearly $1 million projected deficit.
If spending is maintained at current levels, the city would bring in $84.1 million in its general fund and expend $85.1 million, resulting in a deficit of $941,350, according to city documents.
“In order to balance the budget, difficult but necessary decisions are proposed to adjust revenues and expenditures city-wide, including staffing reductions, operational efficiencies, and service adjustments,” city manager Wally Bobkiewicz wrote in a letter to city council members accompanying the proposed budget.
Bobkiewicz said that the nationwide economic downturn was a major factor in the projected deficit, adversely affecting the local employment and housing markets, as well as economic development within the city.
To offset the projected deficit, city staff propose to cut six full-time positions and three part-time positions, the majority of which are not filled. Vacant positions on the chopping block include two service desk officers in the police department and a dentist and dental assistant in the city’s health department. A community and economic development planner and an information services trainer—two positions that are currently filled—could also be trimmed from the budget.
While the city would see an overall reduction in staff if the budget passes, city staff would still receive a 2 percent cost of living increase. Merit or step increases would also be reinstated for non-union employees. The city recently settled two-year contracts with the muncipal employee’s union and the firefighters’ union, and is currently in negotiation with the police officer’s union.
Although the Illinois General Assembly only requires municipalities to fund police pensions at 48 percent and firefighters’ pensions at 46.9 percent, the city’s proposed budget would fund them at significantly higher levels, as recommended by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. At a council meeting earlier this year, some aldermen also said that they would like to fund pensions at an even higher level.
While the proposed budget would cut several positions, it also includes one new full-time position and four new part-time positions in the parks and recreation and health departments. Some of those positions are designed to expand the city’s offerings for senior citizens, according to Bobkiewicz’ letter to the city council.
“As the population of Evanston ages, the city must carefully reassess programs for seniors,” he wrote. “Existing senior programs staff are already overburdened working on existing programs and have no time to plan for the future and begin implementing new approaches to our programs.”
Bobkiewicz cited several ways that the city is attempting to bring in new revenue. That includes the $2 million Evanston spent to purchase land for a parking lot for Trader Joe’s. With an expected opening in spring 2013, the grocery store is projected to create 30 new jobs and bring in an additional $500,000 in tax revenue each year, according to Bobkiewicz.
He also listed the city’s efforts to revitalize struggling business areas at Dempster and Dodge and at Chicago and Main through tax increment financing (TIF). The city approved a TIF district at Dempster and Dodge earlier this year; aldermen have yet to vote on a proposed TIF at Chicago and Main.
Evanston is also trying to raise revenue by selling water to other communities. After the city of Chicago introduced a series of rate hikes, the city has been courting new customers like Lincolnwood, Morton Grove and Des Plaines, who might switch to Evanston’s less expensive water services. The city is also planning to increase the flow of its existing pipeline to create greater capacity for new communities.
City staff project an increase of $279,000 in liquor taxes based on anticipated sales at the new Trader Joe’s under construction and at Whole Foods, which is looking to expand its liquor selection. They also project an increase of $500,000 in building permit revenue, due to major projects anticipated at Northwestern University. Natural gas utility taxes are expected to drop $183,000, however, and sales taxes are expected to go down $53,000 based on State of Illinois Budget Office Projections.
The city council will review the proposed budget during several meetings during October and November.