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Viewpoint: Don’t increase Evanston property taxes

The Evanston City Council will meet Monday to take action on a proposal to raise Evanston’s property tax levy by 4.5%. That’s a $2.5 million increase to Evanston taxpayers.

The Evanston Civic Center.

The Evanston City Council will meet Monday to take action on a proposal to raise Evanston’s property tax levy by 4.5%. That’s a $2.5 million increase to Evanston taxpayers.

We disagree and suggest NO increase for Evanston property taxes. That’s Zero, Nada, Zilch.

If you don’t want property taxes from the City to increase next year, contact your Alderman before Monday and suggest instead:

1. Reduce the amount allocated for reserves.
Aren’t reserves supposed to be used for a rainy day? The last time we checked it’s still raining. The COVID pandemic deluge continues; more restaurants and other small businesses have closed, and more people have lost their jobs. In today’s recession, the fortunate people with jobs aren’t seeing much increase in their salaries or wages. People are struggling!

2. Sell city assets.
Dedicate the proceeds of the proposed sale of City assets (Central Street parking lot and/or Civic Center, for example) to further reduce the police and fire pension liabilities as well as reduce future property tax levies needed to satisfy mandatory pension contributions.

3. Reduce pension funding this year.
Contribute $600,000 less to the Police and Fire Pension Funds just this year, because the pension funding position will improve next year.

One of the primary drivers for the need to raise taxes is to fund the under-funded Police and Fire pension funds. The tax levy for the City’s fire and police pensions is scheduled to increase in 2021 to $20.5 million, $600,000 more than in 2020.

City Council has raised the pension tax levy an average of 6.8% every year for the last 12 years, with the goal of reducing the underfunding of the pension plans. But the underfunded amount has increased by over $94 million over this time period!

The City’s solution of raising taxes has failed to correct this problem, and will result in an ever-increasing tax burden for all property owners.

In 2008, Evanston commissioned a Blue Ribbon Pension Committee to address the then $146 million shortfall between its pension assets and its obligation for future retirement payments for Evanston’s police and firefighters.

The Committee suggested five ways to address the shortfall, with the first choice being to sell underutilized City assets. The Committee “strongly recommended that property tax increases should only be considered as a last resort, after all other sources of revenue and budget cuts have been exhausted.”

Despite this recommendation, the annual pension property tax levy has increased from $9 million in 2008 to $19.9 million in 2020; contributing a combined total of $185 million to the Fire and Police pension funds. The funded ratio for the pension funds is still stuck below 50% and is the same as it was in 2014!

And there’s additional progress in the near-term for Evanston Police and Fire Pension Funds. The Illinois General Assembly mandated that local Fire and Police pension funds must consolidate their investments into a state-wide fund by June 30, 2022 which is anticipated to have a long-term investment rate between 6.5% and 7%.

This move to a statewide investment plan can erase (at the 7% rate) $40 million of Evanston’s pension funding gap.

The Council is scheduled to vote to increase taxes on Monday. Contact your alderman now!


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Jim Young, Jamie Collier

Jim Young was a member of the 2008 Evanston Blue Ribbon Committee and has worked with financial markets for over 30 years.

Jamie Collier has over 20 years of experience in corporate finance and pension management as well as government insurance funds.

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