Evanston’s Finance and Budget Committee was told Tuesday night that general fund expenses are now projected to run substantially over budget this year, while revenues are basically flat.

Budget Manager Clayton Black says the latest general fund expense forecast tops $132 million — up over $4 million from the nearly $128 million included in the 2023 budget — while projected revenue remains unchanged at less than $118 million.

Expected revenue for this year is down by $23 million from last year while expenses are up by nearly $16 million.

Fortunately, with pandemic relief funding from the federal government and unexpectedly strong revenue growth last year, the general fund spending for 2022 was $24 million less than expenses — leaving the city with a substantial general fund balance of nearly $56 million entering this year.

But the latest projections for the year show that fund balance falling by more than $14 million.

In addition, the city anticipates having to come up with another $1.8 million to fund pending contract settlements with its firefighters and AFSCME represented employees.

And, to keep up with the policy Council adopted last year of working toward full funding of public safety pensions by 2040, the city will have to increase the money it sets aside for those pensions by a yet-to-be-determined amount — both because of big pension fund investment losses in 2022 and recent pay increases for police and firefighters.

Current city policy calls for keeping two months of general fund spending in reserve. That would be just under $22 million.

But Council has recently considered raising the reserve level from 16.67% to 20% which would soak up at least another $4 million of the existing surplus, but look more prudent to credit rating agencies.

Some of what’s left could be used to reduce the amount of general obligation bonds the city needs to issue this year for capital improvement fund projects — perhaps by $5 million — a particularly desirable move in a time of high interest rates.

And city staff is recommending that any remaining surplus over the target reserve level be transferred to other funds that are short on reserves — most likely a $5 million transfer to the city’s insurance fund.

Unfortunately, if the financial picture doesn’t improve somewhat, the city will be unable to achieve all of those goals this year.

The budget projections presented Tuesday night did not discuss forecasts beyond the end of 2023, but if the trend represented by the shifts in revenue and expenses from last year to this were to continue into future years, the city could be faced with a need to substantially increase taxes, reduce spending, or both.

The committee lacked a quorum to take action on any of the proposals before it Tuesday night, but Chair David Livingston praised city staff for the updated budget projections, saying that further refinement of those projections will help the committee come up with better long-range budget forecasts and ultimately let the city make more efficient use of its funds.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Well, isn’t this a surprise? Let’s think about this. Perhaps saving money for a rainy day was a better idea than:

    (1) participating in Northwestern’s noble – but utopian – guaranteed income program;

    (2) giving money away to our legacy businesses (who weren’t leaving anyway – imagine Lemoi hardware moving to Des Plaines);

    (3) spending on a climate agenda while our neighbors (aka Chicago) bleed CO2;

    (4) taking money from our general fund to finance reparation payments that NO other municipality in the country is doing;

    (5) chasing businesses away with higher parking fees and higher regulations (must take cash, must not use plastic, must set worker’s schedules according to city’s socialist standards);

    (6) burdening Evanston by welcoming a parade of homeless people that cost us hard dollars and blight the downtown; and

    (7) chasing developers away with zoning requirements that are hugely anti-development.

    Evanston is a city that needs practical leadership that focuses on assets and liabilities, revenues and expenses. It is not a petri dish for opportunistic politicians to test expensive utopian social agendas. Let’s leave social experiments to the state of Illinois and DC.

    It’s really simple. The city council, the city manager, and the mayor should just keep Evanston safe, pick up the trash, pave the roads, support local businesses, and stay out of our lives.

    1. Thanks Jillian. You are 100% spot on.

      We also spend too much on the school administration for a below average school system that has declining enrollment and costs tax payers a fortune.

      Additionally, the over financed through tax dollar library has become an extension of Connections for the Homeless since many of their residents hang out there all day shouting at people or just drugged out.

      Evanston has to make it more appealing for the people who pay for it. Or we just end up leaving. “The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other peoples money. “ – Margaret Thatcher

      1. Ms. B,
        Just a reminder that in Evanston the city government has no control over the two school districts.
        They have their own boards that set their own budgets — and there is an election for seats on those boards April 4.
        — Bill

  2. Perhaps Evanston shouldn’t have:

    Paid for an outrageous ice rink so a few middle-aged friends could get better ice time and billionaire Northwestern didn’t have to build its own rink

    Create a new animal shelter that costs more per square foot than most luxury homes

    Help an extremely profitable “non profit” get into the real estate business by purchasing a hotel (Margarita inn) that is already a blight on a family neighborhood, close to two preschools, and the cause of hundreds of police calls

    Nothing to see here, Mayor and City Council! Just keep writing those checks. I’m sure the residents of Evanston will appreciate even more taxes and feel good about funding every crazy proposal you dream up. Because we citizens (aka: the funders) will absolutely never consider packing up our dollars and living elsewhere. Maybe somewhere with lower crime, better schools and less panhandling? Right?

  3. Jillian, you’ve nailed it! Sadly, these seven mistakes (and more) and any budget shortfalls will be rectified by increasing our taxes. Noteworthy is that most of these decisions are made by our elected officials without listening to their constituents unless, of course, their constituents are like-minded.

    Many of these social experiments (yes this term has been used by Council members) are messing with people’s lives and are conducted by naive, virtue signaling, and unqualified elected officials and City staff.

  4. Well, first off Evanston should **not** be spending one penny on Connections for the Homeless. That already *more* than generously – funded nonprofit received over one million dollars last year from the City; they are already flush with cash, so what is the point except for “virtue – signaling” with “someone else’s money”…???

    With the Margarita Inn, Connections is bringing less than zero “added value” to Evanston. Connections merrily sucks up already – stretched city resources, gives *nothing* back to our community, and degrades our quality of life…

    Another waste is the $38K given to Bookends & Beginnings. It’s a nice and fun “sentimental” thing to do, but B&B has a poor business model; it’s run more as a “hobby” than a viable business. In the words of owner Nina Barrett:


    “No one starts a bookstore to make money,” Barrett said, of the low-margin business.

    Instead of being swayed by easy sentimentality, Evanston needs to be making hard – headed financial decisions

    Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  5. I don’t understand why we keep electing tax-and-spend politicians instead of people with t he common sense to balance a budget.

  6. Just like many of the other respondents to this article… Nobody should be surprised. When the City Council approves projects like the $1000 per sq/ft Animal Shelter, allows Poplar St to be widened and repaved BEFORE sewer and water improvements are made and that was AGAINST the majority of that street’s residents wishes. Furthermore, allowing the Crown Community Center change orders to more than double the project costs and many other senseless “investments” and project expenses … While staff continues to lobby for more Bond Issues and all of the accompanying debt service strapped on Evanston taxpayers backs… The majority of (staff) whom are not even resident taxpayers in our fair city – with no skin in the game! There seems to be only one elected official who is pushing back on this… the others need to learn how to say NO!
    Meanwhile, I’ll be waiting with baited breath for my second Property Tax installment later this summer…on my recently re-assessed home and investment properties… (one is up 35%).
    Respectfully, Brian G. Becharas

    1. “Nothing is more fun than spending other people’s money…”

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

    1. No more ARPA money coming in. Expected reduction in state income tax and sales tax revenue. (Income tax down because of the stock market slump last year.) And various other factors.

  7. Wait a minute! A Democrat city spending more than it has? Hold on to your wallets everyone, There is a reason Democrats are called tax and spend, though in reality its spend and tax. The question thats unanswered before any expenditure is “Who pays?”

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