Evanston aldermen tonight hold a public hearing on a plan to ask voters this November to raise the real estate transfer tax on the most expensive properties in town.

The plan would keep the existing tax of $5 per thousand on properties valued at up to $1.5 million but create the first graduated transfer tax in Illinois by raising the rate on properties valued between $1.5 million and $5 million to $7 per thousand and raising the rate on properties valued at more than $5 million to $9 per thousand.

Aldermen approved the referendum concept last month on a 5-3 vote, with aldermen representing the city’s three lakefront wards — which include many of the city’s most valuable residential properties — voting against it.

Another favorable vote on the measure tonight, after the public hearing, would let the city meet the Aug. 20 deadline to place the referendum question on the Nov. 6 election ballot.

This year’s city budget estimates the current real estate transfer tax will generate $3.3 million in revenue for the city. A staff memo forecasts that if voters approve the referendum that amount would increase by $850,000 next year.

The last two real estate transfer hike referendums — both for flat-rate increases — have gone down to defeat.

In November 2006 Evanston votes defeated a proposed 20 percent increase in the city transfer tax targeted for affordable housing by a fairly narrow 51.7 to 48.3 percent margin.

A similar referendum, but with the tax hike targeted to funding public safety pensions, was soundly defeated — 57.9 to 42.1 percent — at the presidential primary election in Feburary 2008.

The new referendum proposal says the increased money would be used for the city’s general fund.

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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