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Will council trim tax hike? Stay tuned!

Evanston's City Council takes a second look at City Manager Julia Carroll's proposal for a 5.5 percent increase in property taxes at a workshop session Saturday morning.

If last year's experience is any guide, residents should expect aldermen to search for ways to reduce the size of the tax hike.

A year ago Ms. Carroll's proposed budget for the current fiscal year called for a 6.8 percent increase in the property tax.

But by the time the City Council was finished with it, the budget as adopted called for an increase less than half as big — 2.9 percent.

Most of the improvement last year came from boosting other revenue sources, rather than cutting expenses.

The aldermen voted to raise the fee for permits on multi-million dollar construction projects from 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the project cost, pickup up a forecast $528,000 in revenue. And they were cheered when Community Development Director James Wolinski raised his forecast for other building permit revenue by another $100,000.

The biggest expenditure cut was a $280,000 reduction in the budget account for termination pay for city workers.

But with the real estate market looking softer than it did a year ago, similar efforts to shift more costs onto the construction industry may meet more resistance this year.

That could force the aldermen to look more closely at additional spending cuts.

The city manager has chosen to spare one program that had been suggested for the axe this year — the city's two branch libraries.

Closing the branches could save $550,000 — which would cut the property tax increase to  3.8 percent.

But, as with most other programs in the city, the branch libraries have their fans. An Evanston Now poll showed a sharp split in town between those who favor closing the branches and those who want to keep them open.

There was no sign of a fervor for further budget cutting at the first budget workshop this year, held on Jan. 6. Various aldermen raised questions about certain spending and revenue items, but no clear consensus emerged for changes.

The budget hearing, starting at 9 a.m., is scheduled to be broadcast live on cable channel 16.

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