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Big property tax hike still looms

With the budget review season almost half over, Evanston aldermen have tentatively adopted changes that at best might trim about 1 percentage point from the city manager's proposed 5.5 percent increase in the city's property tax levy.

They would have to slice nearly $2 million from the city's total planned spending of $187 million to eliminate the tax increase completely.

The property tax raises less than 20 percent of the total amount the city spends — but it's where the city turns to balance its books once all other revenue sources are accounted for.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, has proposed a $500,000 fund balance transfer from the water department to the general fund. That would provide a one-time infusion of cash this year — but will just postpone dealing with the underlying budget crunch. And city staff argues the money is needed to help fund water main improvements in coming years.

Aldermen and the city manager have also proposed three small spending increases:

  • $52,000 to maintain current funding levels for the parkway tree replacement program.

  • $38,000 to restore the job of a human relations specialist originally targeted for elimination.

  • $10,000 to restore a family planning program in the Health Department.

All of the changes are still subject to further discussion.

The aldermen on Saturday considered, but reached no conclusion about possible elimination of the city's two branch libraries, which would save $379,500 a year and potentially yield additional revenue if the city sold or rented out the building that houses the North Branch library.

They also learned from city staff reports that Evanston spends:

  • Nearly 35 percent more per capita for police services than neighboring Skokie, but that residents of several other nearby communities pay significantly more per capita than Evanston for police protection.

  • About 21 percent more per household for garbage pickup than the average of four nearby communities. All those communities use private haulers. One other community checked spends slightly more than Evanston.

The aldermen meet for another budget workshop at 7 p.m. Wednesday and hold a public hearing on the budget at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 5.

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