EVANSTON — The Evanston City Council approved a $26.068 million budget for the city’s fiscal year 2014 budget, which is set to begin July 1.
City treasurer Kathy Defa told the council during a public hearing on the budget that the city has continued to work to serve its residents more efficiently and less expensively.
“We have cut costs in every department, cut positions not filled and cut back on capital projects not covered by grant money,” Defa said. “Reducing waste has allowed departments to operate more cost-effectively, maintaining the quality of services offered, along with a high level of respect for the people of our community, and our city employees.”
Defa listed a number of small increases in costs for specific city services that have been incorporated into the new budget. Those increases are:
• An increase in the fee charged for disinterment at the city cemetery from $500 to $650, along with the existing opening and closing fees.
“This liability is getting greater and greater, and we feel it is time we contract with a vault company to complete this task,” Defa said. “We’ve had some close calls with our staff performing this task, and feel it is necessary to make a change.”
• Garbage pickup fees will increase by $1.50 per month per container within the city’s collection areas.
“We have lost quite a few of our commercial accounts, and feel this is necessary to maintain operating costs,” she said.
• Landfill fees will increase by at least 30 cents for 105-gallon containers, and up to $1.14 for a 400-gallon container.
“These fees have not been increased since 1997,” Defa noted of the landfill costs. “This is to cover the additional charges by the county, an increase in garbage volume, and a decrease in revenues from the lost accounts.”
• Storm water fees passed on to residents will increase by $2 monthly.
“Additional tasks and work assigned to storm water will merit this increase,” Defa said. “We began the storm water fund four years ago, and it’s necessary now to increase this fee with the added work and expenditures.”
Defa said the increases will amount to an increase per Evanston household of about $3.80 per month.
“We feel this is a fair increase, but it’s not the end,” she said. “The increases will help with the rising costs of operations and changes in services in our water, waste water and sanitation funds.”
Defa said the city of Evanston boasts the lowest utility rates in the north central region, which includes Montana, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. She also noted the city’s sales tax revenue is down by about 11 percent from last year.
“We want to continue to take care of our citizens by being creative in our thinking,” she said, “but we need to examine all services in the general fund because of the decline in revenue.”
She said three city positions have been eliminated as a part of the cost reductions in the budget planning process — two in the streets department and a mechanic position — though since the positions were unfilled at the time, no city employees were affected.
Defa said that, other than initial funding for the new Evanston Community Garden, a new security fence at the police department and repair to the Bear River Drive bridge, all capital projects for 2014 will be paid for through grants or enterprise funds. She did note work on the “E Hill” water tank will require the use of some of the city’s reserve funds, due to the dire need for the repairs.
The capital budget for the city in 2014 is $7,462,909; $6,996,459 of that projected amount will come from grants, according to Defa.
Councilor Wendy Schuler asked if the city had a “plan b” for its operations if sales tax revenue amounts continue to drop, and whether that would include use of reserves.
“Right now we are into our reserves by about $400,000, which we anticipated because of the land purchase,” Defa responded. “I don’t think that’s that much in comparison to our decline in sales tax revenue. We will watch it on a monthly basis. [We may] have to tell everybody ‘emergency items only’ — every department head that works for the city understands that, and they know how to make their department continue to function. …We hope that we don’t have to go into our reserves very far. We do have a little bit, but gnawing at it every year does decrease it, and so you don’t want to get into it unless you absolutely have to.”
Other council business
• The board gave its nod to the city’s annual operating agreement with the Evanston Parks and Recreation District. The agreement, which is renewed annually, sets forth the responsibilities of the district to maintain the many parks in the city, as well as many recreational and golf course buildings and maintenance facilities.
The Parks and Recreation Department was separated from the city, and the district was formed in 1986 to enable the use of mill levy funding from Uinta County School District No. 1 — a source which is expected to provide $360,000 this year. The city and the schools now jointly fund the district.
• The council approved a contract with Porter’s Fireworks to provide the fireworks display July 4 that is part of the city’s annual “Fresh Air, Freedom and Fun” festivities at Hamblin Park. The fireworks are launched from the “E Hill.”
The contract is for $8,000, the same amount the city paid last year.
The panel also approved the Centennial Valley parking lot, the Overthrust Ballfields parking lot, the Overthrust Park parking lot, and Sulphur Creek Reservoir as public areas for the use of fireworks by residents for the upcoming Independence Day holiday on July 3-4.