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City Manager: ‘We have too much debt’

"Bottom line is, we have too much debt," City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen at Monday night’s special City Council meeting.

Debt ratios for the 19 Cook County towns included in the city’s study of 35 metro-area communities.

"Bottom line is, we have too much debt," City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz told aldermen at Monday night’s special City Council meeting.

Debt ratios for the 19 Cook County towns included in the city’s study of 35 metro-area communities.

A chart staff distributed to the aldermen showed that Evanston has the second highest ratio of municipal debt to property values among 35 metro area communities checked. Evanston’s 9.47 percent ratio was only topped by the 14.62 percent ratio in Cicero. The average for all the towns was 3.88 percent.

The city, Bobkiewicz says, has $101 million in debt that’s directly paid through property taxes. That’s $11 million over the $90 million set by the City Council’s own policy. Add in other debt that’s guaranteed by water and sewer charges and other revenue sources, and the debt totals out at more than $278 million.

"Regardless of who pays it back. we have too much debt," he added.

Bobkiewicz and Administrative Services Director Joellen Earl said the survey numbers may be misleading because they are based on total debt rather than property-tax-supported debt only.

Bobkiewicz said city staffers will pull out the 10 most comparable cities from the list and break their debt down further so council "can compare apples to apples" and see where Evanston really stands.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, who originally asked for the survey, called the financial situation "a huge problem" and said officials should be looking at debt as a whole, not just in parts.

"What was frustrating is that they weren’t just coming out and saying it’s all debt," Burrus said. "Even though some is coming out of the taxpayer, some is coming out of other funds, it’s still debt that we have and we have to pay back."

Both Bobkiewicz and Burrus said the debt level will most likely affect how council handles next budget season.

"On the capital side, we have to spend less money and that’s going to be hard on the community," Bobkiewicz said. "The community looks to the city for a variety of improvements every year, in parks, in streets, that I think we’re going to see fewer of as we move forward."

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