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Council trims property tax hike in marathon session

During a City Council meeting that ran for nearly six hours, Evanston aldermen Monday reduced a planned property tax increase to 1% and adopted the city's 2021 budget.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, ponders possible budget cuts during Monday's City Council meeting.

During a City Council meeting that ran for nearly six hours, Evanston aldermen Monday reduced a planned property tax increase to 1% and adopted the city’s 2021 budget.

The budget, as originally proposed by City Manager Erika Storlie last month, called for a 5.9% property tax increase, along with a wave of job cuts, mostly in the Police Department, to address sharp declines in anticipated revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a series of budget discussions since then the increase had been trimmed to 4.5% by the start of Monday’s meeting.

To make the additional reductions, the aldermen:

  1. Eliminated a $1 million planned contribution toward rebuilding the general fund reserve. The reserve fund is expected to start 2021 at just $13.7 million, or 11.7% of annual general fund spending. Bond rating agencies, which largely determine how much a municipality has to pay when it borrows money for capital projects, like to see reserves of at least 16.7%
  2. Reduced planned general fund spending on new vehicles from $1.4 million to $400,000 by choosing to issue bonds for $500,000 in heavy-duty vehicles for public works and trimming $400,000 in spending on lighter-duty vehicles.

The aldermen rejected on a 5-4 vote a motion by Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, to not increase public safety pension payments.

That change would have trimmed another $585,000 in spending, eliminating the remaining property tax increase, but opponents, including Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said it would just increase the amount of money the city would have to pay in the future to make up for shortfalls in pension funding in prior years.

The final vote on the budget was also 5-4 with Aldermen Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, and Fleming voting no.

City officials said the 1% increase would amount to a cost of $4.85 for each $100,000 of a property’s assessed value. The city property tax levy accounts for about 17% of the total property tax bill.

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