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.
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.
“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.