Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says his goal in preparing the proposed city budget for next year is to end a string of annual property tax increases.
Bobkiewicz told a citizen budget input meeting attended by just four residents Wednesday night that while property taxes for pensions and debt payments have increased over the last three years that he hopes to avoid increasing those, or the general fund property tax, in the 2013 budget.
“I hear loud and clear that there is a sensitiviy to all taxes,” not just property taxes, the city manager said.
And he noted that some residents say they’d rather see fees for services rise rather than have property taxes increase, because property taxes, but not the service fees, are deductible from federal and state income taxes for taxpayers who itemize their deductions.
“No one wants to lay more people off,” Bobkiewicz added, but said it may not be possible to balance the budget without layoffs.
The proposed budget is scheduled to be released Oct. 12. The City Council is expected to adopt next year’s budget before Thanksgiving.
Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons said that city expenses so far this year are running 3 percent below budgeted amounts and revenues are running 4 percent ahead of budget — which has eased the strains of preparing for next year.
After several years of cuts, department heads have been told to prepare “steady as she goes” budget plans for next year, Lyons added.
Health care costs for city employees continue to increase at between 6 and 8 percent per year, depending on the health plan.
But Lyons noted that the new fire union contract calls for employees to pay a percentage of the premium, instead of a flat dollar amount, which should mitigate the impact of future premium increases on taxpayers.
And Bobkiewicz said a city audit that required employees to provide proof of eligibility for dependents they claimed on their health policies turned up 25 people who weren’t supposed to be there.
“An ex-wife, and lots of grandchildren,” Lyons said, estimating that cutting coverage to those people would save the city about $200,000 a year.
Bobkiewicz said the employees listing phony dependents had been disciplined.
In response to a question, the city manager said he agreed that the city needs to do a better job of tracking whether its economic development efforts generate new revenue for the city.
But he said he believes the new Trader Joe’s market will lead to a net increase of $500,000 a year in sales and liquor tax revenue — after subtracting any losses to other businesses from the opening of the new store.
He added that athletic ticket tax revenue from Northwestern University has increased by about $100,000 — in part as a result of the city’s efforts to promote the games.
And Bobkiewicz said the city’s effort to increase revenue by selling water the city pumps from Lake Michigan to other communities could start to pay off next year.
Lincolnwood could be the first community to come online, with a relatively small capital investment, he said, while adding the nearly dozen other towns the city is talking to will probably take several years and major capital costs for new pipelines.