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Aldermen postpone ‘eating their vegetables’

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Tom Suffredin.

Evanston aldermen Monday night postponed action on a resolution pledging to rebuild the city’s rainy day fund over the next three years.

A few speakers at public comment voiced fears adopting the measure would lead to higher property taxes. But the city’s chief financial officer, Hitesh Desai, said not adopting it could lead rating agencies to cut the city’s bond rating. That would lead to higher borrowing costs — and higher property taxes.

The non-binding resolution would serve as a prod to fiscal responsibility, but actually behaving responsibly would be up to the new City Council to be elected in April.

That led Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, to suggest adopting the resolution was like promising to eat more vegetables, “but we won’t be the people who’ll have to eat those vegetables.”

The Council has long had a goal, like that of many other municipalities of similar size, of keeping two months worth of its general fund spending in reserve.

But, as Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, noted, the city hasn’t met that target since 2014.

City Manager Erika Storlie said that if the city had maintained stronger reserves, dealing with the budget shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic would have been easier, requiring fewer emergency spending cuts.

The resolution drafted by staff forecasts that the city’s reserves will be more than 25% below the target by the end of this year.

It would take about $1.9 million added to the reserves each year from 2022 to 2024 to get them back to the target level.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said even though the vote wouldn’t bind a new Council, it would be a signal to the community, to future Councils and to the bond rating agencies “that we do know what good policy is.”

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said that it was important to set a course toward the goal.

Ultimately the aldermen voted to defer action on the resolution until their Jan. 25 meeting.

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