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. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Council Lacks Spine
    I hope I am wrong, but it appears to me that many of the Council have forgotten who they are supposed to be representing. The final budget meeting last night was pathetic. When the Council had a chance to reduce the final increase to around 5 percent WITHOUT picking the pockets of those who elected them, they turned and ran. The proposal to CUT the liquor tax by 2 percent while increasing the food and beverage tax by 1 percent would have cut the tax burden to residents by nearly two percent. Most importantly, it would take some of the burden off of the resident taxpayers and get some much needed revenue from external sources. I would much prefer cutting some of the excess spending Evanston is so adept at, but given the option to increase revenue without any excessive burden to taxpayers seems like a win-win proposition.

  2. $50 building rental apartment fee?
    After realizing that $40 per unit rental licensing would not be feasible, council decided to do a ‘$50 building rental apartment fee’ and just approve the budget with it. I have to say this is very sneaky move by those who planned this.

    Let’s think about what happened here….

    Some south side condo dwellers, who bought overpriced condos during real estate boom market in a not so ideal neighborhood, complained about many criminal activities and going on in the near by rental apartments. I am not arguing their complaints are not valid as there are problems with some parts of the neighborhood with certain criminal activities which must be addressed by the city and its citizens. These tax paying property owners do have very valid reasons to complain and we all want the neighborhoods to be cleaner and better which allows our real estate values to hold up and city to continously enjoy high tax they can base off of it.

    So city thinks a rental licensing idea would help control these terrible tenants because property standards inspectors are so highly qualified individuals on policing bad tenants who might be residing in these rental buildings doing criminal activities or other bad things that renters do which causes property tax paying neighbors a big headache.

    Facing a budget crisis and knowing there are some issues with some of these neighbors complaining about these terrible tenants, city manager decides to get creative and suggests that creating this $40 licensing fee would increase revenue to cover these costs while addressing issues from those citizens who are complaining about some of their neighbors who are renters. At the same time since this move is revenue generating move, it sounds like a great idea because while generating revenue, it looks like city is addressing at least one of many complaint by its citizens. So it is ‘win-win’ situation here. Right?

    Somehow these citizens (as valid as their complaints are) convinced that rental licensing would solve all of their problems with problem neighboring renters. But there was never real implementation plan or argument where this licensing would seriously address this specific issue and legally possible to administer way it was being proposed. If the supporters of the licensing had strong evidence that cities that adapt these rental licensing programs had decreases in crimes committed by these renters with a very specific measurable guidelines and expectations, this licensing would have passed with flying colors. But that was not the case.

    Faced by opposition by property tax paying rental property owners with the argument that this would negatively impact many good landlords and tenants to address few problem landlords and tenants, this had to be rejected. If this really did pass, they saw enough evidence of what may come aftermath of passing of such ordinance. This would have made city look bad for passing it in such fashion. This measure was not possible to administer as city inspection would not have resulted in quick eviction of bad tenants and would have created many administrative headaches for many owners and would have bothered good tenant population. There was an also legal reason why this would not have effectively address one issue that was intended to solve in the first place.

    So after realizing that rental licensing with fee would not be ideal to implement, city decides to silently pass a ‘$50 rental apartment fee’. Because city has to collect more revenue for its budget crisis.

    So a rental apartment with 2 units under the licensing fee proposal would have paid $80 in rental unit fees. Of course the actual licensing process will never be known as no one really had exact idea how it would be administered. Meanwhile just the fact that these fees were passed, city would have happily billed property owners for these licensing fees at $40 per unit without really knowing how to implement this process legally and effectively. If the neighbors complain again about their problem renting neighbors, city can say they have a program that collects fees from landlords which address this problem.

    With the $50 rental apartment fee, a property with 2 unit would be paying $50. Which is big savings of $30 for the owner. The savings are greater for those that have more units in the building or if it is a rental skyscrapers in downtown and other many big apartment building complexes. Nothing about what city offers will change as they will keep current process with rental properties in tact.

    With the proposed $40 per unit licensing fee there was big opposition. However compare to that option, a $50 per building for rental apartment fee does not seem that bad. They are not implementing any kind of licensing process which they had no ways of doing it effectively anyway. Its just a fee from a city trying to deal with financial issues and cover its cost.

    At the end, city generated some big smoke over this issue when they proposed the ‘licensing’ fee idea with higher cost. Whey they pass a ‘fee’ without the ‘licensing’ for lesser amount its not that bad! Renters of building in 2-3 units should see about $2-3 impact per month in their rents with this. Big complex renters’ impact will be minimal. Compare to $3 to $5 per month rental increase with licensing, it is good for them. Since they do not have to worry about the big bad licensing of rental apartments which was supposedly needed to get landlords to deal with problem tenants, these terrible tenants will live and terrorize their neighbors freely once again!

    1. You hit the nail on the head!
      We pay alot of fees here for nothing! They are just sources of revenue. There is no tie into service. Interestingly the fees are getting a great deal more regressive on the lower income which some council claim they want to keep in town with their silly affordable housing programs.

      The fact of the matter is the city keeps on adding employees to do non-value added activities, and bill us for the activities.

  3. Step proposed by NJ Governor
    This article demonstrates the similar issues faced in Evanston budget crisis. May be more wdie spread in the rest of country not only in Evanston. Gov. Jon S. Corzine from NJ is making some guttsy call!!


    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/27/nyregion/27corzine.html?em&ex=1204261200&en=c902106ddcb5e478&ei=5087


    The proposal seems aggressive and probably is unpopular proposal to lead as a governor. It is scary to see 3000 employee layoff and school closure proposal on the table. NJ seems to be in deep hole. I hope Evanston is not yet in this kind of deep hole yet.
    It is amazing that this governor is willing to take a heat from government officials and peers and put himself on the line of fire without worrying about his popularity.
    7% tax raise in Evanston is a big increase compare to income increase most of people got last year. It must be rare to find people who got 7% increase of salary in 2007? City Evanston is focusing on finding more ways to get $ from citizen and business by some type of service fees if not by tax increase. Regardless if how $ is collected by tax or license fee, at the end of day, it is residence of Evanston who gets squeezed more and more to pay up to support big Evanston city budget.
    Is there anyone in Evanston offical with guts to lead and advocate city spending cuts to provide some relief to residence of Evanston?
    Or officials to come up with more clever ways to get $ outside of Evanston residence and business owner? I thoujght a good effort was made to reach out to university but anything else?

    Yes, I see $300K budget cut proposed from City of Evanston. But it is only impact of about two or three vacant positions. And Evanston residence will be squeezed twice more $630K. We need to squeeze more on services rather than keep squeezing Evanston residence.

    “Frankly, Evanston has a government its people cannot afford.”

    This statement may be in reality with this pace of high spending Evanston city budget and tax increase against Evanston business and residence. We will be squeezed more and more until we cannot support City of Evanston any more…

    1. Kengo – the city is in a deep hole and it just does not know it
      Kengo – the city is in a very deep hole – but the council members do not want to face it. Each year they put off correcting the problem it grows like the pension crisis.

      The city will adventually need to restructure in a major way – since they can not keep on going after 15% tax increases – using fees and property taxes.

      Kengo – the council continues to use NU to pass off the blame – claiming if they just helped us out all the problems would go away – this is just a diversion from their lack of good management.

      If the council was really concerned they would start to go department by department right now until the next budget and come up with a plan to reorganize the city. It is not going to happen – all that has happen is they offered early retirement and all the senior staff is leaving – thus some of the departments are without managers. So we are really not getting any value for our money.

      All that is going on is they are playing around with the head count and moving it – so they are balancing out things without any real reductions.

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