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Budget Workshop Participants Question City Officials

About 40 residents attended a workshop to provide budget feedback to the city.

City of Evanston officials have less than two weeks to answer two pages worth of questions that residents posed Tuesday night at the first of two community budget workshops aimed at handing some of the responsibility for setting priorities to citizens.

"We need your help," City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told about 40 residents. The attendees had come to ask questions and give ideas about how to close what city Treasurer Martin Lyons said will be a smaller budget gap than the one the city faced during last year's budget session.

Some of the questions posed to city managers Tuesday included the following: Can the city demonstrate, with a graph, the liabilities over the past 20 years for the police and fire pension funds? Is a boat marina or other development on the lakefront possible to bring in new revenue? Can the city realize a surplus in the remaining tax increment financing districts? How much space is empty in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, and can that be rented out? Can the city charge more for parking in city garages?

In outlining the 2010-2011 budget, Director of Administrative Services Joellen Earl identified the items that have been implemented or still are being considered after the city held similar workshops last year to help reduce its deficit.

The city reduced 50 full time equivalent positions; cut pay by 5 percent for top level managers; is now considering bids for contracting out solid waste pickup; increased employee healthcare contributions; and refinanced $7.9 million of bonds to save $1.9 million over the nine-year life of the bonds.

The city has an $86 million General Fund budget and an overall operating budget of $224 million.

Some ideas for raising revenues last year were met with controversy—including the plan to close branch libraries, suggestions for developing the lakefront and calls to reduced the fire or police force. The council could see other suggestions and questions return from last year's process.

At its meeting Monday, the city council will receive the mid-year financial report, which will include the city's current deficit and projections for the remainder of the year, Lyons said. While measures the city implemented to lower spending have helped, the state's ability to pay the city its share of tax collections remains an unknown variable that will affect the budget, Lyons said.

Residents can attend the second budget workshop on Sept. 29 at the Levy Senior Center where they will be able to vote on priority items to present to the city council. The city council will receive the 2011 budget on Oct. 8.

A public hearing on the budget is set for Nov. 8. The city council is expected to adopt the budget by Thanksgiving, Lyons said.

The city will post all documents related to the budget on its website.

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