Evanston alders voted 7-2 early Tuesday morning to spend $1 million a year in real estate transfer tax revenue for the next decade on reparations programs.

But they postponed action on a plan to give $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the Reparations Committee.

Ald. Tom Suffredin (6th), who voted against the real estate transfer tax measure, said the Council was creating a $1 million hole in its budget without any idea about how to fill it.

And Mayor Daniel Biss said he was concerned the move would set up a fight between pensions and reparations for the same $1 million.

(Council members earlier in the Monday night meeting had voiced support for adding $4.5 million a year to public safety pension fund payments but had not taken a vote on that proposal after failing to reach agreement on where the money should come from.)

But Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said that given that the original funding source for the reparations program, the local tax on recreational cannabis sales, has fallen far short of the $1 million a year in revenue that had been anticipated from it, “this appears to be the only way to keep the promise to the ancestors.”

Those are aging Black residents who have already been selected by the Reparations Committee to receive housing assistance from the city.

Devon Reid.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said the Council should commit the money first, and fill the budget hole later.

Only Suffredin, and Ald. Clare Kelly (1st), the leader of the effort to increase pension funding, voted against dedicating the real estate transfer tax money to the reparations program.

The RETT money would be in addition to whatever revenue the reparations program receives from the cannabis tax.

The proposal to give the $5 million in ARPA funds to the Reparations Committee to spend on economic development programs in the city’s low-income census tracts was tabled until the Dec. 12 meeting on 5-4 vote on a motion by Revelle that was seconded by Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th).

Nieuwsma said the city already has an Economic Development Committee that’s been distributing ARPA funds.

But former Ald. Robin Rue Simmons, who led efforts to establish the city’s reparations program, said economic development was one of the three original goals for the program, along with housing and educational initiatives.

After being told by city staff that the ARPA funds, under federal rules, could not be limited exclusively to Black residents, Reid suggested using money from the city’s reserves instead so it could continue the race-based nature of the program.

Kelly said she’s “100% supportive of reparations” but wanted more details about the program before voting for it.

The motion to table the ARPA funding proposal carried on a 5-4 vote with Harris, Burns, Reid and Geracaris voting against it.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. This is madness. The reparations funding was supposed to come out of Cannabis tax revenue and should have been limited to whatever money this dedicated revenue stream yielded.

    Instead, the alders are stealing real estate transfer tax revenue from the general fund, thereby leaving a gaping hole there. Since the City of Evanston has no inclination to ever cut spending, they are baking in future tax increases for the people of Evanston. Really reckless behavior here.

  2. One day very soon, the City is going to be sued by a right wing advocacy group, lose, and pay the millions in attorney’s fees so they can take on some other progressive causes.

  3. Stated by the whimsical Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th): “this appears to be the only way to keep the promise to the ancestors.” The “promise” was actually to divert the first $10 million of Evanston’s cannabis tax to a reparations fund.

  4. Maybe we should practice a little participatory budgeting on the subject of reparations funding? Or better yet let’s get this on the ballot! If we got to vote on ranked choice voting certainly Evanstonians should be allowed to vote on our controversial and racist reparations program which excludes our ancestors of indigenous people. No inclusivity in Alderman Reid pushing to continue this “race-based” reparations program. From a budgeting standpoint this appears to have been hastily agreed to and not fair to Evanston taxpayers whatsoever.

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