Evanston voters today rejected by a wide margin the 20 percent real estate transfer tax increase proposed by the city council.

With 55 of 70 precincts reporting unofficial returns from the County Clerk’s office show 42 percent of the voters favored the referendum and 58 percent were opposed.

The vote totals were 6,820 for the tax hike and 9,456 against.

Update 7:15 a.m. 2/6: All but one precinct has now reported and the vote totals are 8,666 Yes to 11,959 No.

Update 10:40 p.m.: With now 65 precincts reporting the margin is still the same, 42 percent for to 58 percent against. Vote totals: 8,350 Yes; 11,448 No.

The aldermen had planned to use the increased revenue to partially cover the cost of catch-up payments to the police and fire pension fund.

The margin of defeat for today’s referendum was far larger than in November 2006 when the alderman asked voters to approve the same size tax hike to fund affordable housing programs. Then voters defeated the issue by 52 to 48 percent.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. Alderman — please, please listen
    The voters of Evanston have sent a message. But is the City Council listening?

    Many of us are tired of the pet projects hijacking millions of dollars. It’s time to use our tax money for what it is intended — running the City and not funding every private entity and group (including for-profit developers) that wanders through town with their hat in their hand.

    Make serious and noticeable budget cuts. Set $2 million annually as a goal and, once you reach it, keep going until you reach $3 million annually.

    Start by NOT giving away $300,000 to that for-profit developer who approached the City just last week. You know the one — the staff even recommended against it. And start turning down all such requests for the foreseeable future.

    Eliminate duplication of services. One example: we should not be paying for an Evanston defender for those accused of crimes, when we are already paying for an office full of Cook County Public Defenders. The Mental Health Department funding is seriously bloated because the funds are used for far too many pet projects unrelated to core mental health services.

    Stop acting like Santa Claus and focus on running the city. Use those savings to fund the police and firefighter pensions.

    1. Referendums
      I only wish that all proposed tax increases could be voted on via a referendum. I guarantee you that if put to a taxpayer vote, it would be far more difficult to get any tax increases through. The taxpayers are sending a clear message to City government that if they are having trouble balancing the budget, they are going to have to make cuts. That means elimination of positions and programs, reductions in benefits, and major concessions in the next rounds of contract negotiations.

    2. I agree with the post- Alderman please please listen
      With the sound defeat of the referendum, I hope that he City Council will listen. But, I am not sure that even this pretty clear message will sink in. They can’t seem to face the reality that we can’t live with the level of services that we provide, such as the Levy Center, the Ecology Center, the Noyes Cultural Center. I think that the message is now pretty clear: We don’t want any new taxes – even disguised as something other than a tax!

      The city council don’t seem to realize the gravity of the pension mess. While they are dickering about what their position should be in the immigration issue – other taxing bodies like Cook County (proposing a vehicle sticker tax) and the State of Illinois have stuck their hands into the cookie jar. That is not to say that the funding of the CTA is not necessary. But while we are pondering things that we have very very little control of such as immigration, there are other taxing bodies that are also increasing our collective taxes. We need to get our house in order – and we must do it now.

      Only one person commented on the idea of selling off some property (Mr. Rizki) . No one has proposed any significant way to deal with this mess other than the “hot button” of the tree injection program and the mental health staff, or cutting some “other staff or programs” (nothing specific!). The City Manager has proposed a combination of things all at once: raising different fees (aka taxes!) such as the vehicle stickers, etc. and raising property taxes and a “one time use” of the general fund. Isn’t that the operating money (the check book) of the City? I am not an accountant but, that doesn’t sound good….or at least no better than selling property – which is also a ‘one time’ deal.

      It seems to me that there is property that the City owns that they rent out such as 425 Dempster (the Montessori School) and the Evanston Art Center. Let’s begin with that. Why not sell those properties? Even in the current market, those properties are in good locations to bring in some money. I absolutely prefer that to tax increases. There are no ‘magic wands’ to wave here. I think we should stick to the basics: pave (and currently plow) the streets, pick up the garbage, protect the citizenry (police, fire, street lighting, building codes). If there is money left, we can have the extras (arts, cultural stuff). Right now, it seems to me that we cannot afford those extras. Are there any other specific ideas out there? The time is now to speak up. Clearly the alderman need your ideas – that is if they are paying attention to yesterday’s message.

      1. Unforunately the time to correct the mess is not now!
        Barbara – the council does not want ideas – what they want is magic to give them the money with no cuts. There is plenty to cut here for years I have gone to the budget hearings and told them things to cut.
        I used to believe they could cut 10% off the budget with little effect on anything other than the patronage programs.
        If you have the time go and investigate why for seven years they did not bother to rent out the retail space in the Maple ave garage the city owns – my guess it has cost us $500,000 of our money. Ask the council why they rent the Art Center for $1 a year? We don’t need to sell the Art Center we need to raise the rent! Given it is surrounded by city land selling it is not reasonable. I am waiting to see what they are figuring out for the sustainability coordinator position in the budget – to justify it another cut of $75,000. I recently came across another screw up which appears to have cost us $400,000 in capital. Interesting they proposed cutting 25% off the mental health budget but did they cut off 25% of the $100,000 position that supports it? There are too many position here which support unnecessary activities – they can be cut. We do not need a housing coordinator position – affordable housing here is a joke. that will save us $75,000.

        The list is long – it is not about selling assets – it is about making the correct operational decisions.

        You do not at the budget hearing make these decisions to cut things they occur thru out the year – not at the last minute. I have been to numerous meetings were the council asks the most silly questions and has no clue what is going on – so how do we ever get a well run operation? We do not!

  2. Worthy Issue – Wrong Solution.
    Our firefighters and police deserve resolution of the pension funding problem created by our local politicians.

    This tax was bad policy and deserved to be rejected. In fact, it arguably should be eliminated. To tax roughly 1,000 Evanstonians (the ballpark number of properties that sold over the past 12 months) for services and government activities that benefit (I use the term loosely) 80,000 residents is blatently unfair.

    And to hit these 1,000 folks in the sneaky way of when they have some life-need to sell their property, when they are somewhat over a barrel, is like putting a gun to their heads for the privilege of living here (pardon the mixed metaphors.)

    Thank you fellow residents who had the wisdom to reject this stupid tax.

    Now lets figure out how to right the wrongs our politicians have done to our police and firemen (and women) and the pensions they deserve for having put their lives on the line to provide a community we can enjoy living in. Whether that solution is cutting city services or agreeing to a broad-based tax (as sales tax and property taxes are) – what matters is solving a legitimate issue in an honorable way.

    1. Agreed! Sell 1817 Church
      The aldermen should be getting some good ideas here.

      Agreed — sell 1817 Church. Let’s stop pouring money into this project that went nowhere. With hundreds of thousands of dollars unaccounted for and no museum to show for it, we don’t need this building any more.

      If the museum was a good idea and had community support, it would be done by now.

      Keep posting your ideas. And then ask your alderman to read them.

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