Unless Evanston officials find a way to close the city’s $3.5 million general fund budget gap, homeowners will face a city property tax increase of nearly 13 percent next year.

That would come at a time when jobless rates are still at historically high levels and when the national inflation rate for the 12 months ended in July has been just over two percent.

Evanston aldermen have already approved an increase in public safety pension payments that will add 3.6 percent to property tax bills next year. And on Monday they approved refinancing sewer system debt that will add 0.68 percent to the levy — an amount that will grow further under their plan in each of the next four years to a total of a 2.7 percent increase. That already bakes into the budget a property tax increase roughly twice the rate of inflation.

As Assistant City Manager Marty Lyons explained at Wednesday’s budget workshop, a decision to not make cuts to close the general fund budget gap would mean an additional increase of more than 8.5 percent on tax bills.

Aldermen have already voted to impose a 10 percent increase in water rates and may consider increases in other fees and taxes in an effort to boost other revenue to reduce the size of program cuts and shift some of the cost increase away from property taxes.

In adopting the current year’s budget, city officials managed to keep the total property tax increase to 3.17 percent — but that was during a period when inflation was in negative territory, with the consumer price index actually falling 0.6 percent between mid-2008 and mid-2009 when budget preparations began.

It also required closing a $9.5 million gap between spending and revenue. Part of that gap was closed by increasing fees for trash hauling services.

For the current year, the big increase in property taxes came from public safety pension payments, which rose 3.17 percent. The debt service levy increase 0.61 percent, and the general fund levy actually decreased by 0.61 percent.

The city’s property tax levy currently represents about 20 percent of a resident’s total property tax bill, with the bulk of the rest going to Evanston’s two school districts. 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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14 Comments

  1. Property Tax Increase

    Not wanting to play the role of the goat here, but I would be in favor of additional lay-offs at City Hall and then, if needed, an increase in property taxes in lieu of another layer of fees.  I can write off my property taxes, but I can’t write off leaf bag fees or water fee increases.

  2. Unions have not made enough sacrifices

    I’m still waiting for the city to layoff Evanston firefighters – not one has been laid off during this four year recession.

    The Evanston Fire Union took the city to court for unfair labor practices this year after Wally B. tried to layoff three firefighters. Evanston settled  out of court, rehiring the firefighters and agreeing to allow a third party arbitrator to decide whether the city can layoff any firefighters in the future.

    In other words, job security is real strong for Evanston union firefighters, most of whom don’t live in Evanston. How can anyone operate an organization when a third party decides if it can reduce staff?

    At the same time, annual merit pay raises for city union employees has remained in tact. Firefighters still get their overtime pay.

    Everyone on the City Council are Democrats who have received campaign donations from these unions.

    The branch library budget cut is a drop in the bucket compared to labor cost, which keep going up every year. Yes, as 44 employees were laid off 20 more will be hired as the city spends another $1 million for a new 311 call center.

    Until city politicians have the cajones to take on the unions, taxes and fees will continue to rise each year as property values decline.

  3. The city needs to reform the

    The city needs to reform the pension system. We all know that. Even if we increase the property taxes 35% a year every year it still doesn’t come close to filling that future obligation.  But no one has the backbone to make the hard decision and stand up to the unions. We can solve this by moving from a pension system to a contribution system (like most companies do.)

    In 20 years when Evanston in decaying and headed towards Detroit everyone will wonder what happened.  

    When tax burdens get ridiculously heavy, people leave. House values plummet.  All because the unions absolutely REFUSE to make changes or give concessions, even in times of economic crisis. 

    Let them have their mandatory raises. They can’t be fired.  It can’t go on forver. Instead of making some sacrafise now, the entire system will be thrown out in the future, leaving them with nothing.  And the city will be a shadow of what it was.

    1. Taxes and pensions

      your comments about Evanston needing pension reform are right on target, and this effort should be started immediately!

      However, watch the you tube video from the past three of four Council meetings, they’ve spent about 10 hours talking about how to allow chickens in your back yard to be ‘sustainable.’

      our City Council men and women need to wake up right now and get busy resolving some of these big issues and let people go to Dominicks or Whole foods if they want eggs.

  4. Property taxes and pensions

    I find it interesting that our City’s budget is a mess, our pension plans are so underfunded that we may indeed look like Detroit in coming years, yet, if you watch the videos of the past three or four City Council meetings, you would find that the Council spent about 8 hours debating how to allow a few south Evanston residents to erect chicken coops to raise chickens that can be purchased at dominicks for $2.

    Our Council needs to get focused on important issues, and soon. Chickens may make a few of them feel "green’ and "sustainable’ while the city of Evanston is going broke. This is like the Captain of the Titanic fretting over the dinner menu after he’s just struck the iceberg.

  5. Tax Hike and 3-1-1 Service

    Considering the recent layoffs of numerous City employees, and suggestions that there should be additional layoffs … how can the City justify hiring 16 desk operators for the its new 3-1-1 service in 2011? Will these positions be filled by existing City employees as part of a reorganization plan, or are they new additions to the payroll? This new 3-1-1 service raises a lot of unanswered questions.

    1. 3-1-1 Service

      You’re absolutely right.  The 311 Center is a total waste of the citizens’ money.    It creates another layer of bureaucracy and does nothing to enhance front-line service.  

      This is a resume builder for Wally Bobkiewicz at the citizens’ expense.  For $1,000,000, Wally can market himself to other communities and Evanston moves closer to bankruptcy.

      1. 311

        NBC had a story about 911 calls.  A woman calling because Burger King service was too slow, asking wht day of the week it was, reporting his [illegal] drugs were stolen, someone wanting a ride to a rap concert, etc.. If people do this with 911, imagine the calls 311 will get.  Given the crime reports and stupid behavior of some residents reported in the press, I assume Evanston would certainly be high in such calls. For 911 at least I hope the city traces and fines callers with bogus calls.

          I get different stories about the fire department charging for bogus calls.  There should be some level above which the caller is charged—bogus calls, false alarms or stupidity causing real problems.  NU must go way over its limit and fines [to the housing unit] would certainly help the budget. 

          A fireman told me, he checked his records, that a relatively small percent of calls are fires or really need the fire truck.  Yet a fire truck and ambulence seems to go to each call. It would seem an evaluation of this is needed and should save money and keep resources available for places they are needed—I’ve heard the explanations but don’t make sense in light of what could planning and resource management could solve.  If the call is clear that it is a medical situation, a fire truck should not be needed. 

         

        1. 311 is a joke

          I couldn’t agree with you more. I listen to the police scanner on a regular basis (I know…kinda geeky) and I cannot believe the types of calls the police in this town respond to. Talk about a waste of resources. Last week I heard  a woman called because she found a shoe in her yard!  Calls for garbage cans that smell on Howard Street. As if the police are going to clean the garbage cans.  I’ve heard actual calls about people in line at the Burger King that will not move because their order is wrong. "Suspicious" persons sleeping in the park. Since when is it illegal to enjoy a nice day and take a nap in the park? Lastly, I cannot even count the number of times an officer is dispatched to a leaf blower complaint. Then I hear what sounds to be a supervisor order the officer to write a report about the leaf blower that no longer being used. Seriously? This is what we want our Police doing all day? 311 is going to be abused just like all the other resources in this town.

  6. I Suggest

    So the city is in a financial mess. What I suggest is we start cutting more city jobs. The city clerk- can’t that position be combined with other positions? What does he really do- that a lower paid part- time person couldn’t do? Issues temporary handicap placards, the secretary for City Council? I say that is a position that can be cut.   

    The dental clinic- cut it. The branch libraries- cut them. Stop paying for feasibility studies for developers. This city wastes so much money on "do-good" programs that we can’t afford. What will happen if the city keeps funding every possible service for low income people- is the people who are funding all this will leave. Why do I live in a City where my taxes are double what they are in other communities – and those communities have better schools and safer neighborhoods? The only thing Evanston has – and they should be thankful for it- is Northwestern. Without the intellectual and financial influx that happens each year- this place would look like the South Side (of Chicago). It is time for the City to stop wasting money on useless programs.

    Focus on 1. Police 2. Fire 3. Snow Plowing 4. Garbage 5. Park Maintenance 6. Main Library. 

    That is it- everything else should be eliminated- and more City staff positions should be cut, cut, cut.  Because if my taxes go up anymore  – I will sell my place as fast as I can (in this economy) and move out of Evanston. 

  7. What is the real tax increase?

    Bill

    – I do not have the number for the amount the city increased the water, sewer and trash fees.  But if you take that amount – divide it by $400,000 ( each percent of property tax increase – the 13% number is higher!  

    The city is moving money between accounts, which it has done for awhile. Thus the true picture is not really clear.  Did the city ever tell us what it costs to run the library system?  I keep on asking that they tell me how they are running the water department like a business and the answers I get make little sense.

    The 311 center which is proposed – amounts to a 2% property tax increase – yet I did not hear anyone tell us how it was saving money, all I have heard is it is going to increase customer service.  Is customer service that bad?  What is the return on investment for this? (ROI) Looks negative to me!

    When we had the Northwestern expert come in an talk about the pensions not one council member asking any quesitons or drew any conclusions.  If the Mayor and council understood what he said they would not be increasing the pension funding but leting stay at the same level,  its not clear they have a real understanding of the finanical issues of the city or they just like to bring in presentations to waste everyone’s time.

    Ponzi

     

  8. Balanced Budget in Suburbs around Evanston

      Does anyone know which surrounding suburbs have balanced budgets, pension costs under control [as reviewed by competent authorities], a Council that does not debate continuously but gets nothing done [except doling out money to pet projects, preserving antiquated institutions] and in general a city government that acts responsibly, good schools [I guess leaves Skokie out since they are immessed with Evanston] ?

      We may need to know this soon as Evanston seems to be on a road to serious problems—yes more than current.  More and more people will be priced/taxed out of the market and just decide all the fire but no [meaningful] action is taken.  As Swift said, the land is ruled by yahoos.

      A stop-gap might be for NU to take over the libraries.  Perhaps let Wilmette takeover everything from Noyes north, and prepare for the day when NU has to takeover the government of the city until a replacement government can be established.  After all NU can attract people who are willing to pay $40,000 p/y for what they offer. 

    1. Balanced Budgets

      Evanston has always had a balanced budget. Illinois law requires all municipalities to have a balanced budget.

      1. “Balanced Budgets” brought to you by the Tooth Fairy

        One of the primary reasons that Evanston and other municipalities has reported a "Balanced Budget" is that government accounting allows for "reported" pension costs to understate "actual" pension costs. How does this work? The Finance Director in concert with the City Manager and the actuary who they hire can make aggressive (but "legal") assumptions about investment returns, mortality rates, and salary increases amongst others. By knowingly understating the "true" annual costs, the city can allocate more money to other services and claim that its budget is balanced. City Council members can abdicate their fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers through ignorance of this process or by nodding their head in approval.

        It’s easy to "kick the can down the road." – Just ask former Finance Director Bill Stafford, City Manager Julia Carrol or Alderman Bernstein and Moran how easy it is to do. It is much more difficult to raise taxes to pay the "real" costs, or tell the unions they are getting less pay and/or benefits. Our unsuspecting and unknowing youth will bear this debt burden we are bequeathing them for DECADES.

        If our fire and police pension funds used conservative assumptions and the city paid the full "true" annual cost into the funds, we wouldn’t have a $175 mm unfunded liability today. We are now forced to spend more money on pensions, which is limiting our ability to fund other programs – There is community angst about the Library…Ecology Center and Arts Center are next in line.

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