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Aldermen boost property tax levy 3.35%

Evanston aldermen Monday adopted a budget for the fiscal year starting Thursday that calls for a 3.35 percent increase in the property tax levy.

The tax increase is higher than the 2.92 percent in the current budget, but lower than increases in the two years before that.

The aldermen began the budget process with a 5.47 percent increase in the city manager's proposed budget, and had trimmed it to 3.9 percent by the time they went into Monday's meeting.

Most of the aldermanic changes came from raising estimates of projected revenue rather than cutting expenditures.

At Monday's session Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, persuaded aldermen to raise staff revenue projections by $230,000 for the home rule portion of the state sales tax, by $100,000 for the city's share of the state income tax and $5,500 for revenue from a state amusement tax.

But she lost efforts to increase budgeted amounts for the natural gas utility tax, the housing demolition tax and parking ticket fines after those changes met opposition from the city manager and the finance director.

The aldermen also reversed an earlier budget vote and decided not to use $250,000 from water fund reserves to reduce the property tax increase. City Manager Julia Carroll had opposed tapping the fund reserves, which she said will be needed to reduce borrowing for water main replacement projects.

And they rejected a proposal from Alderman Anjana Hansen, 9th Ward, to take the quarter-million from general fund reserves instead.

The city manager said that money is needed to help fund a long-term plan to reduce underfunding of the city's fire and police pension fund that she plans to present to the aldermen next month.

Ms. Carroll said the city needs to find $98 million to cover the pension obligations. That's an amount greater than the city's entire annual general fund budget.

The budget calls for a net reduction of seven full-time-equivalent city employees. It eliminates 26 existing jobs, but 10 of those were already vacant. And it calls for filling nine new positions.

Ms. Carroll has said it will take at least two more years for the city to eliminate a structural imbalance between its annual income and expenditures that she has estimated at at least $3 million.

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