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Can Evanstonians afford city budget?

Tax and incomeEvanston's property tax levy increased nearly 25 percent between 2000 and 2005, while the median income of Evanston households rose less than 5 percent.

The tax levy's rise slowed during the current fiscal year, to just 2.9 percent, but the budget the City Council is now considering would impose a much steeper 5.5 percent increase.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the median income of an Evanston household rose from $56,335 in 2000 to $58,940 in 2005, a gain of just 4.6 percent.

Households that include a married couple did much better than non-family households. The married couples saw their median income rise 5.6 percent to $102,474 while non-family households suffered a 3.2 percent decline in income to $36,381 during the five-year period.

Median income represents the midpoint in a distribution of all reported incomes.

Because economic trends in recent years have tended to favor people at the upper end of the income distribution, the mean income — total income divided by the number of households — has gone up more. But even mean household income for Evanston residents is up only 10.1 percent for the five-year period.

It's unclear what impact new construction has had on the tax burden of the typical household. City officials say 1,445 new housing units were built in Evanston from 2000 to 2006. Since the census says Evanston had 29,675 households in 2000, that suggests about 5 percent more households to spread the tax burden across — and a tax increase for the typical household of 20 percent rather than 25 percent over the five years.

But the census says the number of households in Evanston actually declined by 8 percent from 2000 to 2005 — perhaps in part the result of families doubling up to deal with increases in taxes and other expenses.

The city faces a cost crunch dealing with underfunded pensions for public safety workers and the city manager has proposed various cuts, including laying off nearly 2 percent of the city's workforce to limit the tax increase to 5.5 percent.

Most participants in an Evanston Now poll have said they think the tax increase is too high. What do you think? Login and post your comments here.

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