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A realtors’ representative called Evanston’s proposed Real Estate Transfer Tax referendum “irresponsible” during a forum Sunday at Evanston Township High School.

Joe Roth of the North Shore Barrington Association of Realtors stressed that for owners of properties valued at $5 million or more the transfer tax would increase 80 percent if the referendum is approved.


Hitesh Desai.

But City Treasurer Hitesh Desai said the referendum would have no impact on 97 percent of property transfers — because the tax rate would stay the same on properties valued at less than $1.5 million.

The referendum would raise the tax on properties valued between $1.5 million and $5 million to $7 per thousand and increase the rate to $9 per thousand for properties valued at more than $5 million.

Desai said that if the proposed tax rates had been in effect last year the city would have gained an additional $800,000 in transfer tax revenue.

Roth also argued that transfer tax receipts have varied by as much as 40 percent in recent years and “the city can’t budget for this type of variation.”

The city has had to adjust its budget in some years when RETT revenues came in short of expectations, but it has also provided a cushion in other years when collections were higher than projected.

He also suggested that the tax hike could discourage new development in Evanston and might raise rents for tenants in buildings subject to the higher tax rate. 


Paula Worthington.

Paula Worthington, a senior lecturer in the public policy school at the University of Chicago, said about 35 states have real estate transfer taxes and said Evanston’s current transfer tax rate is “in the middle of the pack” in terms of the range of municipal transfer tax rates in Illinois.

She noted that a similar graduated transfer tax proposal is on the ballot next month in Oakland, California. She said relatively few communities have a graduated transfer tax so there’s not a lot of research on what impact it has on property sales.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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5 Comments

  1. Transfer Tax

    Evanston ranks #7 of nearly 600 cities in the US in the share of housing cost represented by property taxes.  It is a spending problem.

    Mr. Smith, you had a chart regarding of number of employees working for the City of Evanston (10/5/18).  Knowing that the population in 1970 was 79,808 and is now 74,756 (Wikipedia), I’d be curious to know the number of city employees Evanston had in 1970.

    1. City employees

      Hi JPF,

      The city budget documents online, which I rely on for city employee counts, only go back to 2003-04. That year the budget document looked back as far as 1999 and said the full-time-equivalent employee counts were

      • 838 in 1999-00
      • 865 in 2000-01
      • 886 in 2001-02
      • 874 in 2002-03
      • 865 in 2003-04

      For the years since then, check the chart in this story.

      Given the changes in Evanston’s political climate — going from mostly Republican to mostly Democratic — since 1970 — I’m not sure the city employee numbers from a half century ago would be all that relevant to today’s political climate in town. But if you’re really curious, you might check whether older budgets are available at the library.

      — Bill

      1. Employee Head Count

        Knowing the efficiency provided by technology, it would be reasonable to expect that administrative had count should have been reduced over the last 20 years.  Head count has been reduced from 838 in 1999 to 831 in 2017.  Something is not correct.

        How about reducing staff via attrition over the next 3 years?

        1. Attrition

          Hi JPF,

          Your staff number for 2017 is correct, but you fail to note that with cuts in 2018 and the proposed cuts for 2019 the number net year would be 776.

          The problem with using attrition to make cuts is that the reductions may not come where you want them. For example, say you’re opposed to closing Fire Station 4. There already are eight unfilled positions in the fire department which are being backfilled now with overtime.

          If you decide to instead actually eliminate those positions through attrition, you have to stop running one fire engine — either at Station 4 or somewhere else — because you don’t have the people to meet contractually-mandated staffing levels for each operating piece of apparatus.

          — Bill

          1. Attrition pt 2

            Hi Bill–

            I’d like to think that our senior managers would be capable of rebalancing their staff so that they could achieve their stated goals while also seeing their staffs shrink via attrition.

            The alternative is the common strategy of cutting a very popular program, then having the community get in an uproar over the cutting of the very popular program, then in an effort to save the very popular program the taxpayer agrees to increased taxes.

            It did work with the D65 referendum–weren’t they going to cut music teachers?

            I think the cuts need to be spread throughout all levels of city government.  It should not be a badge of honor to be in the top 1% of most highly taxed communities in the nation.

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