Lara Biggs.

Although Evanston has budgeted $64 million for capital projects in this year’s budget, city staff says the money isn’t enough to adequately maintain the city’s parks, streets and buildings.

At a City Council Finance and Budget Committee meeting Wednesday night, City Engineer Lara Biggs said some city programs have much better access to funds than others.

While the city is eligible for state and federal loans and grants to update some facilities — like the water plant — and has a source of revenue from water sales to other municipalities to repay the loans — there generally isn’t a source of outside funding for many other types of work.

Mouse over a pie chart slice to see restrictions on the use of a particular funding source.

Normally, Biggs said, 90% of work on parks and 100% of work on most city facilities has to be funded from general obligation bonds.

As City Councils have sought to limit tax levies over the years, the result, Biggs said, is that improvements to parks and facilities have been dramatically underfunded for at least the past 25 years.

“No building system can go 25 years without capital improvements,” Biggs said.

Acting Deputy City Manager Dave Stoneback said playground equipment typically needs to be replaced every 15 years. But while the city has 47 playgrounds, it’s only replacing equipment at one park per year.

Streets, he said, typically have a 20-year life before they need repaving. Evanston has 160 miles of streets, but the city is repaving only three to four miles of streets a year.

Melissa Wynne.

“Clearly we’re at a precipice with parks and facilities,” Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd), the chair of the committee said. “What you’re telling us is that we need to come up for some new solutions and educate everyone in Evanston about where we’re going to have to make some pretty dramatic decisions going forward.”

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) suggested the city should prioritize repairs to playgrounds “where the highest population of school-age children live, who are more likely to use the playground.”

But no one on the committee proposed either substantially increasing taxes and fees to fund better maintenance of city facilities, or selling city assets to reduce the cost of maintaining what would be left.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. I think the City needs to step back and actually create a City Budget, matching money flows in and out. A budget will hold the City accountable to what monies it has available. Instead of operating like a Sink Hole, where there is never enough, we could create a new environment where we spend only what we have available to spend and actually plan ahead, instead of looking backwards, and saying, “oh wow, I don’t have enough money to do what I am already in the middle of. Chicago cannot be our example and neither can the State of Illinois, however, there are many governments that run much better than we do. It is actually quite embarrassing that no matter how much money is thrown at us, it is never enough. That comes down to very poor management, not the money itself. An operating budget would create a more disciplined approach that would actually help our City attract people to it. Right now we have create a reputation of being fiscally irresponsible and I’m sorry to say that is not a good impression to make. As a 35 year residential real estate broker in Chicago and neighboring areas, I can honestly tell you that our reputation as irresponsible hurts our ability to draw people to seriously consider Evanston versus other communities. We have to wake up, and face the music. We can and should do much better and stop blaming other people for our problems. It’s all about accountability.

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