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Aldermen break policy to trim tax hike

Evanston aldermen today voted to violate their own budget policy and transfer another $1.2 million from the city’s general fund balance to reduce this year’s property tax increase.

"It’s a one time thing and we’ll be digging a hole for ourselves for next year," City Manager Julia Carroll said.

But she added that because the aldermen are still uncertain about how to handle the pension funding crisis, she was willing to suggest the transfer to give them a way to get a budget adopted by the end-of-month deadline and then return to the pension debate later in the year, before the end-of-the-calendar-year deadline for adopting a new tax levy.

She said two large-scale construction projects "that we really didn’t know about until early February" — one at Evanston Hospital, the other at Northwestern University — came in for building permits and the sale of the Park Evanston generated a last-minute boost in real estate transfer tax revenue to create the funding windfall.

Carroll said even with the transfer the city still has enough in the general fund balance to cover an expected $2 million overrun in the streets and sanitation division snow removal budget caused by this year’s unusually severe winter weather.

Emboldened by the new-found revenue, the aldermen then went on to restore $70,900 cut from mental health grant funds, much to the delight of representatives from agencies affected by the cuts who had turned out to protect the reductions.

And they added $50,000 in funding for recreation programs at Mason Park as requested by several residents of the neighborhood around the park.

They postponed action on a suggestion from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, that the city hold off on hiring an Economic Development Director to fill part of the role handled by retiring Assistant City Manager Judy Aiello.

And, over five hours after the meeting began, they concluded they probably won’t be able to finish work on the budget as scheduled at Monday night’s regular City Council meeting, and so they scheduled a special council meeting on the budget for 7 p.m. Wednesday.

At the end of the meeting city budget staffers said the estimated required increase in the property tax levy required to fund the latest version of the budget stands at 5.91 percent.

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