Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, urged his colleagues Monday night to wipe out a planned 5.9% increase in next year’s Evanston property tax levy.
During a special City Council meeting discussion on the budget he argued that a property tax increase would reduce housing affordability, and declining affordability is one of the main factors driving people to move out of town.
The tax hike is projected to bring in about $3.2 million in new money to help close a projected $8 million revenue shortfall.
City Manager Erika Storlie said further spending reductions would mean more staff cuts. She said the proposed budget already eliminates or holds vacant 45 staff positions.
Reducing spending by another $3.2 million would mean cutting roughly another 50 positions, she said.
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said he has residents in his ward who work for the city and they don’t want to lose their jobs.
“No one likes to raise taxes,” Braithwaite added, but they don’t like increased parking fees or a reduction of services, either.
The property tax increase, aldermen were told, would amount to about $135 for somebody who owns a $500,000 home.
Suffredin suggests a couple of possible new revenue sources — a tax on video gaming and on storage units — which the City Council has rejected in the past.
Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, suggested that if the city chose not to try to rebuilding its general fund balance next year it could reduce spending by $1 million.
But Hitesh Desai, the city’s chief financial officer, said rating agencies — which largely determine how much the city has to pay on the money it borrows — are very concerned about the fund balance and the police and fire pension funding.
The city has established a goal of having two-months-worth of its general fund spending as a reserve, but it has fallen a few million short of that goal in recent years.
Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said that for people to understand the impact of cutting 50 positions the city would need to explain what things would be cut. “Does that mean garbage would only be picked up once every two weeks?” she asked.
But Storlie said she was reluctant to put together “some dramatic list of cuts.”
Proposals in recent years by Storlie’s predecessor, Wally Bobkiewicz, to close a recreation center or a fire station generated heated community opposition and ended up being withdrawn.