Taking action: Where is Evanston Township now? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Taking action: Where is Evanston Township now?

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Evanston Township currently provides residents with tax advocacy services. After the township is dissolved, the service will fall under the City of Evanston’s Administrative Services Department.

Across the country, governments are investing in efficiency. Motivated by budget crunches, scarce resources, service duplication and the desire to spur economic development, public officials are exploring consolidation, collaboration and other means to better serve their constituents. In this series, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) will highlight efforts to improve government efficiency. Our fourth installment focuses on Evanston Township.

A few months ago, Senator Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) wrote a guest blog post about how he helped put a dissolution referendum for Evanston Township on the March 18, 2014 primary ballot. Prior to the ballot, residents had been contemplating dissolving the township and showed their support in a 2012 non-binding referendum. Proponents of dissolution argued that abolishing the township would reduce administrative overhead, estimating $250,000 in savings for taxpayers each year. They claimed that the city has assumed most of the township’s functions over time, and that the township model is outdated.

On the other hand, opponents contended that the township’s services would diminish in quality under the city’s provision, and that Evanston’s neediest residents would not receive the support they require. In particular, opponents of dissolution feared that the city could not provide the same quality of tax advocacy services that the township currently provides. Moreover, an outside audit found that the township was operating efficiently in its delivery of services, with no duplication of what the city provides.

While both sides have valid concerns, ultimately residents voted to dissolve the Township on March 18, by approximately a two to one margin. In an official statement released the following day, Wally Bobkiewicz, Evanston City Manager and Acting Evanston Township Supervisor, proposed that Evanston Township cease operations on April 30, 2014. On May 1, the City’s Health Department will assume responsibility for the general assistance and emergency programs, while the City’s Administrative Services Department will assume responsibility for property tax assessment advising services.

As for how township employees will be incorporated into the new system, the four existing staff members of the general assistance program will continue their work within the city. The existing Township Deputy Assessor position will become a retitled full-time position within the Administrative Services Department and will continue to provide the same property taxpayer assistance. The staff person will be made familiar with the Cook County system. The Township personnel/finance clerk position will be eliminated.

The City Council’s Rules Committee convened on April 7 to review these plans. The Town Board convened for a final meeting on April 28, at which time it formally transfered its functions and responsibilities to the City of Evanston. The township will perform an audit for the fiscal year ending April 30. Accounts payable and payroll will be transferred to the city system, the last transaction being a transfer of funds from the township to the city.

MPC has been researching other examples of consolidation, as well as conducting a literature review on the subject, and based on that examination several variables are in Evanston’s favor. First, the dissolution of the township is likely to be successful because there are few services that must be transferred to the city; most had already been assumed by the city, such as road maintenance. There’s also some evidence of compatibility between the city and township—both organizationally and operationally—from Bobkiewicz’s description of how relevant city departments will take on the township’s functions. These variables—the scale of the services to be merged and the degree of organizational compatibility—have popped up throughout our initial research in other places as well as Evanston.

Of course, some members of the public remain apprehensive with regards to the tax advocacy issue. It will be interesting to see whether the city will able to assuage those fears. In Illinois there are 19 other instances in which a township and a municipality have the same borders. In some of those instances consolidation may make sense, and in some it may not—it’s a case-by-case situation that hinges on the ability to provide services more efficiently, which is not the same thing as just cutting costs. If the City of Evanston can successfully dissolve Evanston Township and assumes its functions, while providing the same or better level of service, Evanston could serve as a powerful example for Illinois.

Curious about other initiatives around the Chicago region and beyond? Take a look at the rest of the Taking Action series.

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