With several multi-million dollar funding issues undecided, Evanston’s City Council Monday postponed a vote on the 2023 budget until after Thanksgiving.
The Council has traditionally tried to approve the budget before the holiday and has met that goal the past few years. But legally it has until the end of this calendar year to get the budget and tax levies for next year in place.
The alders failed to reach agreement Monday on how to come up with the $4.5 million in extra public safety pension fund payments they appear to agree are needed to set the city on a path to having those pensions fully funded by 2040.
And they haven’t agreed yet on whether to spend an additional $2 million next year to speed payments to aging beneficiaries of the city’s housing reparations program or whether to spend $5 million of American Rescue Plan Act funds to establish an economic development program for formerly redlined neighborhoods.
The Council did vote Monday to increases in sanitation service charges and water rates next year.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) sought to take all of the $4.5 million in extra pension contributions from the city’s budget reserves — to avoid a politically unpopular increase in the property tax.
But Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said the city would have to continue to make similar additional pension payments each year until 2040 to close the gap and said she was leery of trying to get it all from budget surpluses.
And Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) said she was reluctant to dip too far into hoped-for reserves because the city doesn’t know what extra costs it will face once new union contract agreements are reached.
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) and Ald. Devon Reid (8th) argued that the city couldn’t afford to both raise pension funding for next year and boost its general fund reserve level from 16.6% to 18% as proposed by city staff.
The city’s reserve target now, according to staff, is the lowest among several nearby communities. For example, Skokie and Des Plaines set their reserve level at 25% of annual general fund spending while Niles and Schaumburg maintain a 40% reserve level.
Higher reserves are seen by rating agencies as one sign of a more creditworthy local government that deserves a higher credit rating, leading to lower borrowing costs.
Mayor Daniel Biss said the chair of the city’s Finance and Budget Committee, David Livingston, has told him that at least part of the extra pension funding needs to come from a property tax hike.
And Biss said that in the past when Council has pushed to increase revenue projections, the city has ended up in a bad position when those estimates fell short.
It now appears the Council hopes to approve the budget for introduction at its next meeting on Monday, Nov. 28, and then adopt it at its only remaining scheduled meeting for the year, on Dec. 12.