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Aldermen adopt 7 percent property tax hike

Evanston aldermen late Wednesday gave final approval to a new city budget that will increase the property tax levy 7.02 percent.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, decried the tax increase, saying it was by far the largest in her many years on the council. But Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he believed that the council had one year approved a tax hike topping 10 percent.

Rainey argued the aldermen should have increased other taxes and fees to permit a smaller property tax hike.

On balance the aldermen were more willing to add new tax and fee hikes than to reduce expenditures.

They added $626,200 in new taxes and fees Wednesday while cutting expenses by $308,000.

The hikes include:

  • $423,200 raised by increasing the refuse pickup fee paid on water bills by $1.95 to $6.95 a month. That reflects what City Manager Julia Carroll says is the actual cost of the garbage pickups.
  • $146,000 raised by establishing a $50 per building rental apartment rental fee. The aldermen adopted this as a substitute for a more costly $40 per unit rental licensing program they rejected Monday night in the face of intense opposition from landlords.
  • $57,000 raised by doubling the price of a non-resident on-street parking permit from $75 to $150, a measure that will primarily affect Northwestern University students with cars not registered in Evanston.

Spending cuts included eliminating a proposed new assistant public works director position, eliminating a vacant position in the parks department and juggling other vacant positions to make them pay less or switch them to part time to save on benefit costs.

On split votes the aldermen rejected proposals to eliminate a new economic development director position in the city manager’s office, to increase fines linked to rental-unit inspections and to revive a plan to boost the meal tax, this time sweetened by a partially-offsetting reduction in the liquor tax.

At the start of the meeting the aldermen heard a presentation from former public safety pension plan actuary Ted Windsor about how his estimate of pension liabilities differed from that of the current actuarial firm, Gabriel Roeder Smith & Company.

Windsor said his calculations would let the city spend less to fund the pensions now, at the price of having to spend more later. 

The presentation didn’t persuade the aldermen to change their plans to fully fund the higher pension payment recommended by the new actuary.

The final property tax levy increase approved is a little less than half the 15.15 percent increase contained in the city manager’s proposed budget.

The budget as adopted includes nearly $2 million in one-time transfers from the general fund balance to help fund the pension shortfall.

That almost guarantees another tough budget season next year when the council will need to find roughly $11.3 million, a half-million more than this year, to fully meet its public safety pension obligations.

For the new fiscal year that starts Saturday the city will spend nearly $93 million in its general fund accounts and over $210 million when all funds are accounted for. 

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