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January 23, 2018

12/13/2017 1:25:00 PM
Aldermen Approve Balanced Budget for FY '18

Amid accusations, defenses, and concerns about the Library’s proposed expenditures – both capital and operating – and about the perceived reduction in the City Clerk’s budget, aldermen on Dec. 11 approved a $280.5 million budget for fiscal year 2018. Under State law, the City must approve a balanced budget by the beginning of the next fiscal year, which for Evanston is Jan. 1, 2018.  The $280.5 million figure excludes more than $50 million in inter-fund transfers, which can result in double-counting. It was a unanimous 8-0 vote; Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, was absent.

At the beginning of this year’s budget season, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz asked each department to make a 4% reduction in expenditures from the prior budget. After taking those proposed reductions as well as other factors into consideration, he said there was a $6.1 million deficit in the General Fund, the main operating fund. City staff’s proposals of expense reductions were for the most part in personnel, and their proposed revenue enhancements took the form of taxes, fees, and fines both new and old.

After eliminating some City positions, adding some back, consolidating others, leaving some vacant positions unfilled, and creating some new but lower-paying positions, the net reduction in personnel is about 22.8 full-time employees (FTEs). One of the new positions is the video-records clerk, needed for the Police Department’s body-worn cameras.

Three furlough days are planned for all City workers. An increase of 7% in water rates and water-meter fees and a decrease of 4% in sewer fees will cancel each other, resulting in no additional charges to the taxpayers, the City said.

The proposed increase in the City’s portion of the property tax bill is 1.45%, which will be used for payments to the firefighters and police pension funds. According to City documents, that would mean an increase of about $20 in the City’s portion of the property tax bill on residential property valued at about $400,000. The City’s portion represents about 20% of residents’ property tax bill.

How Taxpayers Will Be Affected

Some of the taxes and fees in the 2018 budget will affect only Evanston residents; others will impact residents of and visitors to Evanston because they are geared to activities:

• 1.45% property tax increase

• 1 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase, to a total of 5 cents per gallon

• 20 cents per ride tax for transportation network providers such as Lyft and Uber

• $1/hour meter parking, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. throughout the City

• $110/month parking fee in City-owned garages, up from $95

• $60/month parking fee in City-owned surface lot, up from $50

• $20 fine for expired parking meter, up from $10

• $40 fine for a street-cleaning parking ticket, up from $35

• 1% additional tax on tickets to athletic events, for a total of 9%

• 7.5% per night tax on all vacation rentals, including Airbnbs but excluding the commercial B&Bs

Just over $600,000 will remain in the General Fund as reserves. All the revenue enhancements in the 2018 budget will be effective Jan. 1, 2018, except the vacation rental tax, which will go into effect on Feb. 1, 2018.

Capital Projects

Proposed capital projects include the usual infrastructure repairs and maintenance of City buildings, parks, and recreation areas. This year, though, two major capital projects are in the works: the new Robert Crown Center, which could cost about $40 million, and a $10 million renovation project for the Main Library. The Library Board, however, voted on Dec. 7 to spread its project out over three years. It is unclear how much of the $10.9 million project will hit in 2018.

Several aldermen raised concerns at the Dec. 11 meeting and previous meetings about the cost of the renovations to the Main Library. Mayor Steve Hagerty proposed that Council spend time in January discussing capital projects, so that Library Director Karen Danczak Lyons and perhaps one or more Library Board members could explain the project and its probable costs. It was not clear whether the discussion would take place at a regular or a special City Council meeting. 

Reader Comments

Posted: Thursday, December 28, 2017
Comment by: Kathy Kovacic

Why is the main library, which is a building that is only 23 years old, set to undergo a $10 million renovation? In order for this "renovation" to occur, Evanston taxpayers are taking financial hits whether we can afford them or not. Higher parking fees, another increase in property taxes, and increases in gasoline among other increases in fees and taxes.

These increases in fees and taxes are going to hit poorer Evanston residents particularly hard, residents who in fact live the furthest away from the Main Library. Instead of wasting millions of dollars on "renovating" a relatively new building, why not put that money towards speeding up the renovation of the Robert Crown Center, which will include a branch that will serve the residents hardest hit by the tax increases?

Or, why not use those millions to balance the budget and for the police and fire pensions? Why not use that money to increase services to the elderly and the poor? Why not use that money to take some of the burden off homeowners, perhaps by reinstating the "free" leaf pickup program that was discontinued the last time the City needed cash?

It sounds from this article like the millions allotted for this wasteful, unnecessary library expenditure has already been approved. What kinds of "renovations" are we even talking about? Trying to track down information on the planned library "renovations" is no easy task. It's like the Library Director and Board and the City Council are trying to hide something from Evanston residents. Shouldn't there be a public hearing about an expenditure this massive, especially when WE'RE suffering for it? Evanston residents are not some sort of cash cow that can be milked forever, especially when many of us will be facing financial hardships due to increases in healthcare costs.

For the sake of ALL of Evanston's residents, I urge you to reconsider this extravagant, thoughtless use of our hard-earned money.

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