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11/20/2013 2:28:00 PM
Nearly Final City Budget Shows 1.25 Percent Increase in City Property Tax
By Mary Helt Gavin


Little Council discussion followed the presentation of a revised City budget on Nov. 18.

Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Martin Lyons presented some revisions to the previous tentative budget that included an increase in revenue projections, a decrease in the Library’s budget and reductions in and eliminations of proposed fee increases.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said, “We believe the revisions we’re proposing this evening are consistent with Council’s wishes.”

According to figures presented by Mr. Lyons, the City’s portion of the property tax – which represents about 21 percent of the overall property tax bill – would increase by 1.25 percent. This is a reduction from the 1.66 percent increase proposed in the City Manager’s October tentative budget.

Projected building fees for 2014 were increased by $150,000 from the earlier draft.

Library

This is the second year for the Library Fund to appear as a separate budget item. Last year, the Library trustees and administrators decided not to ask for an increase in property tax support for the current fiscal year. For 2014, however, the budget approved by the trustees called for an increase in tax support.

 The Library’s operating budget for 2014 is $5,913,000, an increase of $808,000 over the 2013 operating budget, said Paul Gottschalk, administrative services manager for the Library. This includes a $250,000 charge-back from the Library to the City for services it performs for the Library – payroll, as an example – and, on the City’s side, tax revenue in the General Fund will be reduced by $250,000. This chargeback is a wash for the taxpayers, said Mr. Gottschalk. The net Library property tax increase is $528,900.

Meeting earlier this month, the Library trustees were able to find some additional revenues and some ways to reduce expenses. On the revenue said, said Mr. Gottschalk, the Library projects an increase in the revenue from the Illinois State Library – a per capita grant that has been increased from $1.01 to $1.25 per person. On the expenditure side, deferred hiring and projected turnovers will reduce expenses by about $53,000.

One Change in Proposed Fee Hikes

No changes were made, or even discussed, to the proposed 10 percent water rate increase, so that appears to stand for now. Proposed increases in solid waste fees, however, have been somewhat reduced.

The monthly fee for the 95-gallon refuse cart will now be $17.95. While this represents an increase of $3 per month over the present charges, it is $1 less than the $18.95 per month proposed in the City Manager’s October tentative budget.

Solid waste fees, said Mr. Lyons, “are the greenest bang for the buck.” He said that, in the past two years, the City has successfully reduced by about $100,000 the amount of solid waste sent to landfills.

Proposed increases in fees for yard-waste carts, yard-waste stickers and smaller, 65-gallon garbage carts were eliminated.

Funding for Mental Health Services

Funding for the mental health and social services was increased but still fell short of the $829,000 that the City’s Mental Health Board had requested. In the October tentative budget, funding for mental health services was $631,000; the proposed amount on Nov. 18 was $786,000.

Mr. Bobkiewicz said the increase in funding for mental health services from 2013 to 2104 is about 5 percent and represents the “largest increase of any single item in the City of Evanston’s budget.”

During the citizen comment portion of the meeting, representatives from four social service agencies – Housing Options, Family Focus, the Moran Center and the Childcare Network of Evanston – spoke in support of funding for mental health services.

Debbie Bretag, executive director of Housing Options, which provides housing and support services to about 80 persons with a chronic mental illness, said such persons often need physical health care as well. 

She said such persons die, on average, 25 years earlier than others – in part from their reluctance to see physicians and in part from the side effects of the strong psychotropic medications.

Dr. Dorothy Williams, executive director of Family Focus Evanston, said funds from the Mental Health Board would go to their primary prevention [of pregnancy] and teen parenting programs.

Kathy Lyons, director of the Moran Center, stressed the need for mental health services for youth.  “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth between 10 and 24 years old,” she said.

Cook County jail is the largest provider of mental health services in the State, said Ms. Lyons, and the third largest in the country, trailing only Los Angeles County jail and New York’s Riker’s Island. Funding for mental health services helps kids stay in school and stay out of jail. “It’s the safety net – or the release valve – for the people most vulnerable,” Ms. Lyons said.

Andrea Densham, executive director of the Childcare Network of Evanston, said investing in mental health services “is a community investment – a smart use of public resources, a smart investment for Evanston.”

Next Steps

Council members appear to be set to vote on a final budget on Nov. 25. When Mr. Lyons asked for comments, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she had “not felt this confident about a City budget in many, many years.”

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, simply said, “Thank you.”

 







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