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Recap: City Council meeting on the budget

Here's a recap of our live coverage of this evening's Evanston City Council special meeting on the 2021 budget.

Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council special meeting on the 2021 budget.

The meeting started at 5:33 p.m.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

Mayor Steve Hagerty discusses the message he issued late this afternoon on the COVID-19 pandemic — urging people stay home.

No announcements from the city manager.

Public Comment

4 people signed up. So 3 minutes each.

Mike Vasilko wants to extend the budget discussion until Nov. 30. Wants more layoffs to avoid tax increase.

Jamie Collier, 6th Ward, praises city for working to catch up on underfunded public safety pensions. Suggests with recent relatively high investment returns city now could cut back a bit on its contributions.

Public comment ends at 5:56 p.m.

Mayor notes that budget was introduced last Monday and is scheduled for final adoption next Monday, Nov. 23.

SP1 – 2021 budget discussion

City Manager Erika Storlie says have gotten a lot of feedback and will be discussing various issues tonight.

Pension actuary, Jason L. Franken, gives presentation on public safety pensions.

Says pension plans are about 50% funded now and city has a plan to, over the next 20 years, get to having the plans 90% funded.

Says the statutory approach to funding pensions in Illinois is “extremely flawed.” Offers analogy to only making minimum payment on a credit card bill and seeing the debt increase.

Says are funding more than the statutory minimum — but need to increase it even more to reduce future liabilities.

Says city has $240M in unfunded liability in the two plans.

In response to a question from Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says roughly 70 percent of the total pension payment is to make up for liabilities not covered by prior years’ payments.

Storlie discusses scenario for funding the alternatives to policing pilot program from further cuts in the Police Department. Suggests in addition to previously planned elimination of 11 police officer positions and holding one position vacant also hold vacant one additional police officer and a records input operator. That would amount to about $200K in savings to fund the alternatives pilot.

That and $50K reduction in funding for senior services would reduce the proposed property tax increase to 4.5%. (Tax increase was originally proposed at 5.9% and more recently was reduced to 4.9%.

Wilson says doesn’t want to cut pension funding — just buys us a tax increase for many years into the future, he says. Calls the pensions the city’s single biggest financial threat.

Alderman Cicely Fleming says she wants to cut the tax increase even more — even at the expense of reducing pension contributions.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says report from fire chief says unreimbursed cost for fire calls at NU is $658K a year. Says NU “gets away with murder” and can’t continue to get free fire service any more.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says she’s persuaded of the need for the pension funding level to avoid bigger property tax increases in the future.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, praises the pension presentation. Agrees with Wilson and Revelle that should not take a step back in terms of pension payment levels. Says that would just make it worse for everyone in Evanston very quickly.

Praises effort by staff to reduce spending.

YouTube feed of City Council meeting died just as Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, was starting comments at 7:19 p.m.

Feed returns about 7:22 p.m. … with Fleming saying training is not the be-all and end-all of solving problems with police.

Storlie says in response to question from Rainey that permitting video gaming could raise $150K in tax revenue. Wilson says that as he recalls, residents would lose a huge amount of money from the games in order to generate that revenue. Rue Simmons asks for info about gaming addiction, other possible consequences.

In response to question from Rue Simmons, Storlie says to eliminate the remaining $2.5M in property tax increase would likely have to lay off 25 more employees, figuring average cost of salary and benefits is about $100K per person.

Storlie says staff is already pretty bare bones and would be difficult to make further cuts, but she’ll prepare a memo on the issue with some details.

Suffredin asks about selling city assets. Storlie says wants to look at that more closely for the 2022 budget. Have a large backlog of maintenance and capital costs on existing buildings, and more buildings require more staff.

Storlie says need to rebuild general fund balance — the rainy day fund — so that the next crisis doesn’t cause as much disruption.

Rue Simmons asks the mayor to get Northwestern University to increase its good neighbor fund by $2 million for this year. (The school is contributing $1M for this year already, has targeted the funds to racial equity programs.)

End of discussion.

Call of the wards

Wynne … suggests staff should do more of the review on windows and siding issues that now are addressed by the Preservation Commission (to reduce delays). Also asks about leaf blower complaints — says she gets them about once a day. Wants staff to develop materials re air and noise pollution from gas powered leaf blowers. Sees it as a climate action issue. Also says parents are complaining with students at home about three leaf blowers going on the block.

Suffredin … tomorrow at 7 p.m. joint 2nd, 5th and 6th Ward meeting on the budget.

Revelle says environment board has been talking about leaf blowers — possible five year plan to phase them out.

Fleming … shared safety visioning session on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m.

Meeting adjourned at 8:03 p.m.

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