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.

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