Evanston aldermen today gave a mixed vote to new fundraising ideas contained in the city manager’s proposed budget.
The net result, at least for the moment, is an increase in the size of the property tax increase residents will face from the 15 percent boost called for in the proposed budget to about 17 percent.
- Approved a new $40 per unit rental licensing fee designed to raise $525,000.
- Raised the vehicle sticker fee 25 percent to $75 to raise $495,000.
- Added new fees for additional garbage carts designed to raise $130,000.
- Imposed a new charge for historic preservation reviews to raise $8,000.
- Rejected an increase in the fee charged on the water bill for garbage pickup from $5 to $6.95 per month passing up an extra $423,000 in revenue.
- Rejected a plan to increase the fine for expired meter violations from $10 to $15 that could have raised $252,000.
They postponed action on a proposal to increase business license fees to raise an extra $85,000 in hopes a new ordinance can be drafted that will make more businesses subject to the fees.
The aldermen ran out of time at their meeting before reaching any of the spending reductions and additional revenue measures the manager proposed to try to reduce the property tax hike.
They scheduled an additional meeting to continue the budget review Monday night immediately after a public hearing on the budget that is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chamber at the Civic Center.
The revenue votes came after the aldermen accepted a suggestion from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, that they operate on the assumption the city actually will have to come up with the increased fire and police pension fund payments called for in the budget.
Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, argued that because the tax levy to fund the pension programs doesn’t have to be finally adopted until December that the city could wait.
"If we start ending programs and make major slashes in the budget, we will be moving into an area of no return, we won’t be able to come back and reinstitute them," Moran said.
But Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said she was surprised to hear suggestions of further delay. "That’s what got us into this mess," she said.
Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, initially objected, arguing that the pension fund catch-up payments were "front-loaded."
But after City Manager Julia Carroll explained that the payments actually will have to increase from the $12.5 million required this year by approximately an extra $500,000 each year from now until the pension obligation is fully met in 2033, he voted for Rainey’s resolution.
Under the payment schedule the city will owe $18.5 million in 2020 and $26.2 million in 2030.
The vote on the rental apartment licensing fee came after city attorney Herb Hill assured the aldermen that it would withstand a legal challenge because the cost of providing the inspection services that would be paid for by the fee would be greater than the funds the fee would raise. Hill said state courts have rejected constitutional challenges to licensing fees that were as much as five times the cost of the city service provided.
The aldermen rejected the increase in the garbage pickup fee on the basis that it would be deductible to residents if it was included in the property tax levy.
Shifting it to the property tax also has the effect of making commercial property owners, who already pay for private garbage removal services pickup part of the cost, and it means that owners of more expensive homes will pay more for the same service than owners of more modest homes.
Only Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, voted to include the garbage pickup fee increase on the water bill. She said it was fairer to charge people the same for the same service.
Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, explained the rejection of the expired meter fee increase saying it would "leave a bad taste in the mouth of shoppers that would preclude them from coming back to Evanston."