Aldermen opt for more taxes, fewer cuts

During a meeting that lasted past midnight, Evanston aldermen Monday signaled general support for a revised 2019 city budget that relies more on tax and fee hikes and less on spending cuts and layoffs than the plan originally proposed by the city manager last month.

To close a nearly $7.5 million budget gap, the new plan from City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz calls for $4.8 million in new taxes and fees, up 45 percent from his original proposal. And it proposes $2.8 million in spending cuts, down 35 percent from the original plan.

Wally Bobkiewicz.

The original budget proposal would have reduced city full-time-equivalent staffing from 807 this year to 776 next year.

The revised plan adds back 16 positions, plus two completely new jobs for parking enforcement officers, for an approximate total FTE staff level of 794 next year. But four police and four fire jobs would be held vacant.

Major revenue increases in the revised plan include:

  • $820,000 from a 2 percent increase in the property tax levy.
  • $700,000 from the real estate transfer tax increase approved by voters last week.
  • $400,000 more ticket revenue from adding two parking enforcement officers.
  • $400,000 more ambulance fee revenue from increased billing to insurance companies.
  • $280,000 from increasing the transportation network tax from $0.20 to $0.45 per ride.

Big expense additions include:

  • $713,000 to keep Station 4 open and add back five firefighter jobs..
  • $213,000 to fill two Health Department positions that had been scheduled for elimination.
  • $180,000 to hire two new parking enforcement officers.
  • $100,000 to reduce what had been originally proposed as a $250,000 cut to mental health grant funding..
  • $98,000 to restore one police officer position.

Some aldermen suggested additional changes to the budget.

Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said she’d like to restore the $150,000 still being cut from mental health grants.

Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, suggested rasing parking fees rather than increasing the number of parking enforcement officers.

Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward; Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, and Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, all said they’d like to tax private bus services like the one that transports Northwestern University students around town.

Fiske also suggested finding a substitute for the washed-out dog beach in hopes of capturing as much as $90,000 in lost revenue from dog owners.

The budget debate is scheduled to resume on Monday, Nov. 19, with final adoption of the budget possible either that night or on the following Monday, Nov. 26.

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