City budget calls again for tax hikes

Paul Thissen

To fund nearly $3 million in higher prices for the same city services, residents will see their property taxes increase again and restaurant owners and patrons will pay a new tax, if Evanston City Council approves the proposed city budget.

The 2005-06 budget proposal includes a 3.98 percent increase in the city’s portion of the property tax — which translates to a 0.75 percent increase in a homeowner’s tax bill. This proposed increase is lower than last year’s increase, but the proposal also includes a new 1 percent tax on restaurant food and beverages and a parking tickets increase from $30 to $50.

City Council must approve the budget, submitted by interim City Manager Judith Aiello before the start of the city’s March 1 fiscal year. This week, the council will begin a series of Saturday morning meetings to discuss the budget. Meetings will take place at 9 a.m. at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

“This is really a maintenance budget,” said Aiello, who added that no new services or cuts were proposed.

The 2004-05 budget included an increase of nearly 7 percent in the city’s portion of the property tax.

Food and beverages served in restaurants have not been taxed in Evanston in the past. The proposal includes a tax on those items, but also suggests decreasing the tax on liquor sold at restaurants from 6 to 4 percent.

“It’s a growth tax,” said Tracy Roberts, a management analyst for Evanston. “As the cost of living increases, that tax also increases.”

The tax also covers the expense of regulating restaurants, like issuing permits and safety inspections.

Another budget proposal would increase the price of a parking ticket for failing to display an Evanston parking sticker.

“We provide a lot of lead time, a lot of opportunities (for people to get stickers),” Aiello said. “There isn’t any reason why somebody can’t get a sticker on time.”

No cuts in city services, such as closing the south branch of the Evanston library or the beach at South Boulevard, are included in the budget because aldermen have rejected proposals to cut such services for the past several years, Aiello said.

“(The aldermen) feel that any programs that we can cut diminish the quality of life,” Aiello said.

The budget also includes four separate proposals to pay for elm tree inoculation, and the Saturday meeting on Jan. 29 will probably be dedicated to a discussion of paying for tree inoculation against Dutch elm disease. Hundreds of Evanston’s 3,000 American elm trees die each year from the disease.

The council must decide if it will inoculate all of the trees next year or spread the work over three years. Aldermen must also decide whether to cover all costs or require residents to pay half of the cost of inoculating the trees. The city could raise property taxes, gas taxes or take money from other city services to fund the proposal.

Though the interim city manager prepared the budget, incoming City Manager Julia Carroll, will begin work in the middle of the month for the rest of the process.

Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th) said he hopes that Carroll, with her accountant training and previous budget experience, can help to eliminate waste. She was the only managerial candidate who mentioned the budget in her interview, he said.

He expects that the budget process will be contentious, he said.

“If you’re going to take from someone it better be someone else — that’s the (Evanston) philosophy,” he said.

Reach Paul Thissen at [email protected].