Chamber: Planned tax hike too big

The head of Evanston’s Chamber of Commerce says the city’s proposed 15 percent property tax increase is too high.

Chamber Executive Director Jonathan Perman says that assuming the city’s two school districts increase their property tax levies at about the 4 percent rate of inflation, Evanstonians will be faced with a total property tax bump of around 6.3 percent.

"It should be more like 2 to 4 percent," Perman says, "roughly the rate of inflation."

Perman says the city may be able to find some relief from its budget problems by taking a closer look at the water and sewer bonds used to upgrade the sewer system and reduce chronic basement flooding problems.

"Those bonds will start expiring soon, in varying amounts over the next several years," he said.

"After that, you could argue there’d be no need to continue water and sewer rates at their current high levels," but the rates might be maintained and the extra money used to help meet some of the pension obligation, either directly or indirectly, he suggested.

Perman, who is a member of the city’s Parking Committee, says the city faces another looming budget problem because of the way it handles the parking fund.

He says the fund is supposed to operate like an independent business — raising its own revenue and covering its costs.

But the city has repeatedly shifted money from the parking fund to the general fund, and when it raises monthly rates at city garages, the increase becomes part of the parking tax, which goes to the general fund, not the parking fund.

"In the long run that will come back to hurt us," Perman says, "because there are big bond debt obligations for the garages, plus maintenance and operating costs."

Perman said the city’s proposed increases in business licenses fees this year "are relatively minor overall."

But he says the chamber is "totally opposed" to City Manager Julia Carroll’s suggestion that the city should impose a food and beverage tax.

He said it would unfairly "single out one particular occupational group to solve the city’s problems."

Perman said he hopes to meet soon with local landlords to get their views about the city plan to impose a $40 annual fee on each apartment unit in town.

He said he’s not yet certain whether the inspection program to be funded by the fee would be effective in halting the bad behaviors that residents favoring the program are concerned about.


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