Several supporters of Evanston’s experiment with participatory budgeting urged the City Council Monday night to add $4 million to its record $449 million spending plan for next year.

Len Lamkin was among the speakers at the budget hearing who said the program encourages young people to get involved in government.

He claimed that more than 500 of the votes in this year’s $3 million participatory budgeting program — funded by federal American Rescue Plan Act dollars — came from students at Evanston Township High School.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th), who pushed for this year’s participatory budgeting program, suggested the city could move money from other programs to fund PB next year — but offered no suggestions for what to cut.

He also called for new funding for an environmental equity project and rebates to lower-income residents who purchase bicycles.

Council members Monday didn’t act on the call to fund a new round of public voting on new spending initiatives, but they did agree to authorize the city manager to move forward with implementing next year the seven projects that got the most votes in this fall’s balloting.

That will be subject to Council approval of individual contracts for the projects, once staff has fleshed out the details.

John Kennedy.

John Kennedy, a long-time opponent of replacing the Civic Center, said he opposes the three biggest items listed in the 2024-2029 capital improvement plan.

Those are $64 million for Civic Center Improvements, $64 million for Police Fire HQ Improvements and $41.8 million for Service Center Renovations.

None of those projects are actually budgeted for 2024, and the budget document says the CIP “is a dynamic process, with anticipated projects being changed, added and deleted from the plan as the five-year timeline evolves.”

But all three projects would likely be primarily funded by general obligation bonds — creating the potential for a major further surge in city spending that could last for two decades as the bonds are gradually paid off.

Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) said she can’t support the proposed budget — calling it an “ask for everything budget” that’s forcing out middle-class people and small businesses.

But Kelly did not offer any specifics of programs she would cut.

Lamkin, who had pushed for added spending on participatory budgeting, suggested the city could force Northwestern University to sign a community benefit agreement to solve its financial woes. “They have plenty of money,” Lamkin said.

The Council did vote to postpone action on proposed increases in water rates and sanitation service charges until next month, so they could be addressed at the time the new budget is scheduled for adoption.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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