City Council members heard a litany of calls for increased spending at a special meeting Monday night.

But there was a possible ray of budget sunshine when City Manager Luke Stowe announced that Evanston has been chosen to participate in a program from the Government Finance Officers Association called “Putting Assets to Work.”

It will be one of four communities in a second cohort of the program. The others are Austin and Sugar Land, Texas, and Mount Vernon, New York.

Stowe says that the cities in the first cohort, which launched in summer 2022, are seeing new revenues and other community benefits — including affordable housing.

The program is designed to help cities figure out how to how to generate value by more fully utilizing city property and structures.

But any results from that program won’t realized until after next year’s city budget is adopted.

Robert Bush

At the special meeting focused on the city’s capital improvement program, Robert Bush, head of the city’s Parks and Recreation Board, said the city needs to:

  • Rebuild 11 parks over the next five years that have seen no substantial improvements for more than a quarter century.
  • Add staff to design park improvements and manage projects.
  • Create dedicated pickleball courts in the city.
  • Renovate the ecology center and the damaged Bent Park fieldhouse.
  • Create dog parks at Clark Square and Grey Park.
  • Upgrade the gym at the Chandler-Newberger Center.
  • Add restrooms at various city parks.
  • Add amenities to Beck Park.
  • Fund kitchen renovations at the Levy Center.

City Engineer Lara Biggs said the proposed park improvements just for next year would cost nearly $11 million with recreation facility upgrades costing another $2.9 million

And Biggs repeated the message that the city will need to spend nearly $10 million next year — as much as a quarter billion dollars within the next few years — to upgrade or replace four key city facilities — the civic center, police-fire headquarters, the service center and the cultural arts center.

So far, decades of debate about the future of the Civic Center — and years of concern about the other facilities — have failed to yield any clear direction about what to do with them.

Overall, Biggs says, staff is proposing $111 million in capital improvement projects for 2024 — but with the understanding that that list will have to be trimmed — with some of the work deferred to future years — because the city lacks the staff to implement all those project next year.

Devon Reid.

Unless the city can find ways to generate more revenue from its existing facilities — or reduce expenses by selling off some assets — tax and fee increases are the likely response to the cost pressures.

And as the meeting drew to a close, Ald. Devon Reid (8th) promoted several of his revenue schemes — from charging for parking at recreation centers to imposing a license fee on self-checkout kiosks in stores.

The city manager is scheduled to release a proposed budget for 2024 early next month.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. I don’t quite understand how the city of Evanston and District 65 are finding themselves surprised by looming deficits. My husband and I are keenly aware what monies are coming in to our accounts We know this on a daily basis. If we have an expensive project/bill coming say having to lay a new sidewalk or replace any windows or appliances we delay any unnecessary expenses such as dining out or travel This how we live year after year. We can anticipate most new expenditures. Why are our city and school personnel always surprised by deficits? Thank heavens we have Devon Reid who can’t budget his own income and expenses to come up with increased revenue sources

    1. Another very long time Evanston resident wrote:

      “Why are our city and school personnel always surprised by deficits?”

      Because it’s a lot more “fun” to spend “other people’s money”…

      Consider the hare – brained stuff like publicly – funded public financing for mayoral candidates. “Participatory Budgeting”, moneys thrown at failing businesses like Bookends & Beginnings, millions wasted on failed “social service” agencies such as Connections for the Homeless and Cradle to Grave, “reparations”, the un – needed new 5th Ward School, outrageous D65 transportation costs, bag taxes, the spectacular failure to monetize the decrepit Harley Clarke Mansion, etcetera, etcetera…

      Of course, you, the working taxpayer, are told to “get to the back of the bus” and cease your silly complaining about all of this wonderful spending that will ensure “equity” for everyone – this is the “progressive” mantra, naturally…

      “It’s only money”, after all…

      Gregory Morrow – Evanston 4th Ward resident

  2. I’d propose that this city goes back to bare basics: roads, pipes and sewers, public safety and leave all other “adventures” to private philanthropists. Those other “adventures” especially include all forms of social engineering, like supporting businesses that would otherwise fail and forcing building projects that would otherwise not be built.
    It’s time for some humility!

  3. First off, let’s take a look at the city’s Parks and Recreation Board (PRB) recommendations. Except for repairing the “damaged Bent Park fieldhouse”, every single recommendation as determined by the PRB is purely discretionary. Moreover, I’m curious why none of these (9) recommendations made it to the Participatory Budgeting (PB) committee as an initiative worthy of consideration by the community.

    Secondly, does anyone honestly think the City of Evanston will be able to fund $111 MM in capital improvement projects by 2025 without some type of municipal bond issuance, property tax increase, new source of revenue, or budget re-allocation from other expense categories?

    Finally, I remain hopeful that the “Putting Assets to Work” program will result in some positive financial benefits for the City of Evanston. However, I believe a firm condition of this program should clearly state that any and all new sources of revenue derived from this program shall be re-allocated to capital improvement projects, infrastructure repairs, real property development, and other tangible asset improvements. Otherwise, I’m fearful this potentially new source of revenue will go to more social welfare programs and the city’s assets and infrastructure will become increasingly dismal and decrepit.

  4. Partner with Skokie to improve the dog park we have. We have dog beach too. Charge a little for passes. It makes sense for costs. If the current parks are maintained and safe, do they really need upgrading? So often they are empty which is sad. Make sure neighborhood residents would like their tax money used this way rather than assuming they want new park equipment. Perhaps focus on school playgrounds which get the most use? Charging for parking at rec centers? C’mon. Perhaps charge non residents higher fees for courses at the parks.

  5. I’m always amazed when dog parks are considered a “need.” Just what is the cost to taxpayers for land preparation and maintenance? Yes, there are two nearby dog parks already. It’s one thing to provide playgrounds and schools, but quite another to provide dog owners with their very own parks. It’s a very north shore kind of privileged expectation.

Leave a comment
The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *