Mayor Daniel Biss told an Evanston City Council budget hearing Monday night that he can’t support the proposed 2023 city budget.
Speaking toward the end of a nearly three hour meeting to discuss the budget Biss said he can’t support the proposed 4% property tax increase or the plan to add 48 full-time-equivalent positions to the city staff.
Biss also suggested the city needs to increase its contributions to the police and fire pension funds.
The pension funding increase was also recommended by David Livingston, who chairs the city’s Finance and Budget Committee.
Livingston said the city needs to “get on a glide path” to have the pension programs 100% funded by the state’s target date of 2040.
Despite considerable efforts keep the city’s pension contributions above state-mandated minimums over the past 14 years, Livingston said the programs are less than 60% funded now. And — given the poor market performance so far this year, their funding level is likely to be even lower when the city’s actuaries issue their next annual update.
Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said she agreed that the city needed to reach 100% pension funding and said it would likely take up to $4 million a year in additional pension contributions to achieve that goal.
Kelly suggested the city could find part of the money to increase the pension funding by not opting to increase its general fund reserves next year.
But Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) said raising the reserves was an important step so that if the city again faces the sort of revenue shortfall that appeared likely at the start of the pandemic, it wouldn’t have to lay off employees as it did two years ago.
Hitesh Desai, the city’s chief financial officer, suggested the city could avoid a projected $2.6 million increase in the property tax through two revisions to the budget projections.
One increases the projected revenue from sales and real estate transfer taxes by $1.25 million.
The other doubles the estimate of the payroll costs that will be avoided because vacant positions won’t all be filled at the start of the year. The original budget projected a 2% vacancy adjustment. The revised version ups that to 4%.
Livingston said he suspects the actual vacancy savings could even be greater than 4%.
The Council is scheduled to have a public hearing on the budget on Monday, Oct. 24. And several council members are planning ward meetings to discuss the budget in the week or so following that session.