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Aldermen hike city debt limit

In a split vote Monday, Evanston aldermen decided to raise a self-imposed city debt limit — but not as much as staff had proposed.

City staff had recommended changing the council's policy on general obligation debt to be paid from property tax revenue from $90 million to $120 million.

But aldermen voted to set the limit at $113 million instead.

And only six of the eight aldermen present for the meeting were willing to go even that high.

The City Council had previously voted to issue more debt in recent years than allowed under the old limit, and Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons projected that as a result of continuing borrowing for sewer improvement projects the debt total would reach neary $113 million by next year, before starting to decline a bit in 2014.

Lyons argued that to maintain the confidence of bond rating agencies the council should set a limit that was no lower than the amount of debt it actually expects to issue.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the city's debt level, compared to other municipalities, is quite high.

"We're continuing to live way beyond our means," Burrus said, adding that the city needs to find ways to "pay as we go" on city project.s

But Lyons noted that the equalized assessed valuation of property in the city has increased substantially since the old debt limit was set. So debt, as a percentage of property value, has been declining, he added.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she favored the $113 million limit. "I think we all are committed to reducing borrowing," Holmes said, "but we have to be realistic about our current debt level."

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, joined Burrus in voting against the debt limit increase.

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