Mental health funding draws aldermanic fire
In the midst of a virtual love fest about next year's city budget Monday night, Evanston aldermen found only one tiny budget sliver to sharply criticize.
Several aldermen objected a plan to hire a new crisis intervention coordinator to help residents with major emotional problems find services in the community.
"We fund 10 or 20 organizations all of which get into crisis intervenion counseling" to some extent, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said.
Top: Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, questionned funding for a crisis intervention coordinator. Above: City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz with a projection screen behind him showing part of the budget presentation.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said he'd discussed the need with the city's Mental Health Board about six months ago, and they recommended hiring three new people on the city staff to respond to the issue.
Bobkiewicz said he thought that was too much, but he budgeted $85,000 to hire one person, who wouldn't start until March.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the city should explore handling the service through a contract with a non-profit rather than adding a new city employee.
Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward.
Bobkiewicz said that's what he had proposed to the Mental Health Board, but that they didn't think there was an agency in the community that could take on the job.
Rainey said Evanston Township already provides crisis counseling for a segment of the population, and the city provides such services for young people through its youth engagement program and for seniors through the Levy Center and for crime victims through the police department.
Bobkiewicz said said the issue initially arose in discussions with city staff "who were overwhelmed with the needs of specific individuals who end up on our doorstep."
And Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said she was aware of at least one instance over the summer in which city staff "was clearly not equipped" and didn't "have the time or ability" to deal with a particular issue.
She suggested that a lot of problems caused by the economy, foreclosures and other societal pressures fall outside of the parameters of the issues the city has been addressing.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, happy with the budget.
But Rainey called the idea that existing agencies couldn't handle the job "baloney" and said residents with such problems should be referred "to the organizations that tell us they're doing this work."
"Who checks up on thse people?" Rainey asked. "we're funding them to do crisis intervention. They need to step up to the plate."
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, suggested "a deeper conversation" was needed to assure accountability among the non-profits that are providing various services to the city -- not just in the mental health area.
As for the overall budget -- which after years of steep tax increases and sharp staffing cuts calls for a slight reduction in property taxes and elimination of only five full-time-equivalent jobs -- there was only praise.
Rainey said she'd "never worked with a more supportive city staff ... in helping us accomplish what we want to accomplish.
Burrus agreed that the staff had done "an outstanding job" in preparing the budget.
And Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the city manager and staff had "done a wonderful job" preparing the budget.
Bobkiewicz said he'd invite members of the Mental Health Board to discuss the crisis intervention coordinator issue at the council's next budget meeting -- a public hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday, Nov. 10.
The council is expected to adopt the budget on Monday, Nov. 19.