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Alderman OK budget, tax levies

After months of heated debate, Evanston aldermen Monday night adopted a 2011 budget on a 7-2 vote.

They also unanimously approved tax levies that will increase the property tax burden for the general fund and police and fire pension funds by 3.46 percent — from $29.4 million to $30.4 million.

After months of heated debate, Evanston aldermen Monday night adopted a 2011 budget on a 7-2 vote.

They also unanimously approved tax levies that will increase the property tax burden for the general fund and police and fire pension funds by 3.46 percent — from $29.4 million to $30.4 million.

The police and fire pension levies rose by an average of about 10 percent, while the general fund levy declined by 1.4 percent.

The 2011 budget is for a 10-month transitional period starting March 1, which is designed to let the city switch to a January to December budget year starting in 2012 from the March to February year it has used in the past.

The switch is designed to let the city approve the property tax levy that will generate revenue during the period covered by the budget about the same time the budget is approved, rather than having to approve the tax levy before the budget debate begins, as has been the case in the past.

Under state regulations the tax levy has to be adopted no later than December. The levy will raise funds to cover 12 months of city operations.

Because of the 10-month time period for the transitional budget, spending amounts are not directly comparable to the current year’s budget.

The new budget calls for spending a total of $163.9 million across all city funds. That compares to $196.5 million budgeted during the current 12-month budget year.

Comparing the new budget with 10-months of spending in the current year, the new budget shows an increase in spending of $227,577, or about 0.14 percent.

The only change in the budget made Monday night was to take $75,000 from the city manager’s contingency fund to expand the program to inoculate trees against Dutch Elm disease — a move aldermen said would actually save money by reducing the number of diseased trees the city would have to cut down.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said she voted against the budget because it had been "commandeered by special interest groups."

She said she still hopes that "at some point the council will be fiscally responsible," but that it’s continued lack of self control "will reverberate negatively for city residents for a long time to come."

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said he voted against the budget because he didn’t support the proposed level of spending on the new 311 call center.

He said that spending, combined with staff reductions elsewhere, would leave the city with "a Bentley to receive complaints, but a clunker to deliver the services."

He said that if the state legislature doesn’t act to reduce the burden municipalities face in funding police and fire pension funds, "we will default, eventually." If you look at the grafs, he added, at some point the rising pension costs "will out-pace our ability to pay."

Alderman Donald Wilson, 4th Ward, said the while he voted to approve the overall budget, he had voted against some spending additions because he doesn’t believe the city can afford them. 

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