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City budget approved

Evanston’s City Council Monday adopted a 2009-10 fiscal year budget that calls for no increase in property taxes.

Mayor Lorraine Morton praised the unanimous decision to avoid a tax hike, noting that this is the first time in many years that the city hasn’t increase the property tax levy.

Evanston’s City Council Monday adopted a 2009-10 fiscal year budget that calls for no increase in property taxes.

Mayor Lorraine Morton praised the unanimous decision to avoid a tax hike, noting that this is the first time in many years that the city hasn’t increase the property tax levy.

But Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said that in the past when the city went several years without a property tax increase it had resorted to using one-time revenues to balance the budget — which then left the city in financial trouble later on.

Bernstein noted the use of some one-time revenue in this year’s budget and asked Finance Director Marty Lyons what he sees for the year ahead.

Lyons said he believes the city’s revenue will be "very tight" for the coming year, but said he plans to monitor the situation closely and provide frequent updates to aldermen with options for adjustments if need be.

In all, the city plans to spend nearly $234 million next year, with nearly $90 million of that spending in the general fund.

That’s a reduction of nearly $2 million in general fund spending and essential unchange spending levels across the other funds.

To make the budget numbers work the city has decided to essentially freeze hiring for the coming year and try to negotiate pay raises with employee unions of no more than 2.5 percent — compared to the 5 percent combined cost-of-living and experience-based increases typical in recent years.

While they didn’t take a formal vote on the issue, several aldermen indicated they are prepared to impose furloughs — unpaid days off — on city workers if the city’s revenue levels decline further or if new union contracts come in with higher than budgeted pay hikes.

This marked the first time in many years that the aldermen were able to reach agreement on the budget at their first February meeting. More often the aldermen have not managed to approve a budget until far closer to the March 1 deadline.

Despite avoiding a property tax hike, some citizens who spoke at the meeting were still skeptical of the city’s spending plans.

Michael Sultan of 3225 Central St. said the stable property tax rate is just "smoke and mirrors" and that more budget problems will hit down the road.

He praised efforts by city staff to reduce spending but said aldermen have so mishandled the budget crisis that they should all resign.

But Mike Vasilko of 2728 Reese Ave., who has spoken frequently in favor of budget cuts, said he wanted to thank the city staff for producing a budget that doesn’t include a tax increase.

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