Evanston aldermen Monday decided to ask voters to raise the real estate transfer tax by 20 percent to help cover the city’s pension debt.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, proposed the referendum question as one step in a series of measures the city will have to take to cover nearly $100 million in unfunded police and fire pension liabilities.

The city’s finance director is scheduled to present a comprehensive package of proposals to address the pension shortfall next month, but Ald. Tisdahl said she believes it’s important to get started on the referendum process to provide time to explain the need for the measure to voters.

The measure would raise the transfer tax paid by sellers when a property changes hands from $5 to $6 for every $1,000 of the property’s value.

Finance Director Matthew Grady says the increase would raise about $800,000 in new revenue for the city annually, which he said could cover up to one tenth of the total pension payment shortfall.

Under Ald. Tisdahl’s plan, the vote on the referendum would take place during the Feb. 5 presidential primary election.

Evanston voters last fall rejected by a 48 to 52 percent margin an identical increase in the transfer tax to fund affordable housing programs.

Only Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, voted against the new referendum. He called the decision premature. Ald. Moran, who strongly backed the failed affordable housing referendum, appeared to prefer asking voters again to approve that measure.

The vote Monday was by the City Council’s Rules Committee, which includes all the aldermen. The next step is for the council to schedule a public hearing on the referendum question.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Why property transfer tax??
    I find it difficult to understand why public officer’s pension should come out from specific property owner who’s transering properties.

    All citizens are benefiting from public officer. Why shouldn’t be all citizen’s duty to pay via general tax.

    Why only small percentage of citizen needs to cover for this debt via specific property transfer tax?

    I do not see any logic or link between Property transer tax and public officer pension…

    Can someone explain why? Am I the only one who finds this proposal troublesome?

    It’s almost as nonsense as the following analogy. We need to build new library in Evanston. We will increase tax from those citizen whose name starts with letter A to H.

  2. I also wonder about this
    I also wonder about this tax. Quite honestly, the rest of America has lost their pensions all together, they should contribute to a 401k on their own like the rest of us. This city continues to claim poverty, if it is that bad, then tax the Private University that sits at our shore. Forget the grandfathering of stupid tax breaks.. if the school doesn’t like the taxes, then move, we can use the land for condos.

  3. They can put in the vote,
    They can put in the vote, but voters can just turn it down. I will definitely vote no. I do not see any tax increase (including property tax transfer) to fund poorly handled pension liability for police. City still has crime issues. If this money was needed to hire police to make impact on crime statistics, I would vote yes. But for poorly managed pension liability, would definitely get a NO from me! With the real estate market being what it is, this not a time to increase tax on this. Property owners are getting hit hard with significant increase in property tax bills. City better use that increase of money in better uses! So please vote NO! Property owners should not pay for things mismanaged by city like police pension funds.

  4. Why doing this via transfer tax
    My take on why the City Council wants to go this way is that the transfer tax only affects those who transfer their real estate during a given year. It is invisible to the property owner that stays put. I think that this would make raising the needed revenue palatable to the Evanston voters taht do not look past the size of their tax bill. This approach would also allow the Council members to save face if the proposal is defeated.

  5. You are all correct. This is
    You are all correct. This is rediculous. It is time that someone run against these elected city officials. The time for change is fast approaching. They have lost the vision of what this town was, and I am sure there are some here that would be willing to step up and easily take their positions.

  6. Proposed tax hike vote
    I agree that this is not the way to pay for the type of shortfall.

    What no one has yet mentioned is how it is that we are in this mess? How many budget years has this problem been looming? I thought that last February 28, and every February 28th before that, we had a “balanced budget”. It seems to me with an $8,000,000 liability that we have been deceived!

    I think we should sell the Art Center building (next to Lighthouse Beach) to the highest bidder to raise this sort of money. The City should not own so many buildings when they can’t even maintain the roof on the Civic Center!

  7. Comments on the Newest Tax -our officials are dreaming about
    There are too many Anonymous postings I am not certain if they are all the same person or several people’

    Let me answer a few question – the city has know about this problem for years – they have just covered it up.
    The Chamber of Commerance published a report called the diet in the early 90’s the debt was 30 million now it is 100 million, so they never really corrected it.

    They also new about it last year but did even do a thing with in the budget.

    Let me also tell you the people who get elected here are supported by certain special interest that the council members take care of there needs – nothing illegal but then again not always in the interest of taxpayers or budget.

    One post suggested selling the art center – do you know what they charge in rent? $1 a year!! And the building needs $500,000 of repairs. what do some of you think?

    The council does know what to do – so they are proposing this weak solution – if its any thing like the last two questions on the ballot. They will lose again and look foolish.

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