Ald. Krissie Harris and Budget Manager Clayton Black at the 2nd Ward meeting Thursday night.

The 4% property tax hike in the proposed 2023 Evanston city budget is no longer necessary, according to Budget Manager Clayton Black.

Black outlined the reasons during a 2nd Ward meeting hosted by Ald. Krissie Harris, and attended by about 40 people at the Robert Crown Center Thursday evening.

While the tax increase is still in the budget document, Black explained that with the year-end surplus now projected at $14 million, “staff feels comfortable with a net increase of zero” in new property tax revenue for the general fund.

City Council has final say, so it’s possible there might still be some sort of tax increase, particularly to pay down more of the outstanding police and fire pension fund debt.

City staff says a 4% tax hike would cost the owner of a $300,000 house another $64 a year.

This was the first ward meeting for Harris, who was appointed to fill a vacancy last month.

Harris said she was excited and happy that people came out to voice their opinions, which they certainly did.

Marjorie Basso said “we’ve got all these projects that people want, but can we afford them?

“I’d rather pay down the police and fire pensions instead of getting a grand new animal shelter,” she noted, at least as a hypothetical argument.

The city is being asked for about half of the $6.3 million dollar facility’s cost. City staff consider the current shelter outmoded and too small.

Others said the city should spend more on environmental sustainability.

Any budgeting process is a challenge.

“Evanston is Saks Fifth Avenue but we’ve decided we want to pay Wal-Mart prices,” Harris said.

She hopes to have an interactive community meeting, where citizens would be given Monopoly money to put next to certain spending options, just to get a visual sense of public priorities.

Something similar was done a few days ago, with colored dots rather than play money, at a session on repairing Evanston’s eroding shoreline. One citizen at the ward meeting also attended the shoreline session, and said the interactive process there was extremely useful.

The budget proposed for 2023 comes in at $402 million. Council hopes to pass the new spending plan by Thanksgiving.

Harris said she was “impressed” with the possibility of no property tax hike, but still wants to “hear what my constituents and neighbors need.”

She also started the meeting by going around the room and having everyone say their names and where in the ward they lived, as a way of getting to know each other.

“The 2nd Ward,” Harris said, is “2nd to none.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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