Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Evanston’s debt increases by 3 percent in 2011

Evanston’s debt burden increased by almost 3 percent from 2010 to 2011, according to a report issued last week by the Cook County Treasurer.

The city holds more than $331 million in total debts and approximately $388 million in additional pension liabilities. This was an increase of 1.7 percent from the previous year, according to a report issued earlier this year by the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based libertarian think tank.

These debt increases come amid rises in property taxes. The city experienced a 57 percent increase in property taxes last year while the Evanston/Skokie District 65 and District 202 experienced a 47 percent and 43 percent rise respectively, according to the Heartland report, which drew tax data from the Cook County’s Treasury Office. City officials say the tax increases have not mitigated Evanston’s liabilities.

“With the decline of revenues, any increases in taxes end up going toward regular operations,” Ald. Don Wilson (4th) said. “It’s not really making any money to pay things off.”

More than half of the city’s debt stems from a 53 percent unfunded pensions liability. This leaves the local government responsible for procuring about $205 million for the pension fund to be fully funded.

“Public pension liability is a huge issue in Illinois,” said Evanston resident Blair Garber, who is also the Evanston committeeman for the Cook County Republican Party.

Property taxes in Evanston have been on the rise for the past 10 years, increasing 48 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Heartland Institute. The increase is more than twice the inflation rate – 22 percent – over the same period of time.

Wilson said in order to combat the city’s debt, he and other officials need to determine how to use existing resources efficiently.

“In the current economic climate, we have difficult choices to make,” he said. “Do we charge more or cut back services?”

Among some downsizing solutions under consideration, one option is to apply city attorneys in legal matters involving city entities instead of hiring from outside firms, Wilson said. That way, Evanston can keep these services in house and continue to go to court and win cases, he said.

Another option under consideration is dissolving Evanston Township, which shares a border with the city and provides some services to Evanston residents. City officials estimate potential savings of $750,000 could come from dissolving the township.

The average Cook County municipality has seen an average overall tax hike of 48 percent between 2000 and 2010, according to the Heartland Institute report.

“Until the state makes some changes, there’s really not a lot that we can do,” Wilson said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Evanston’s debt increases by 3 percent in 2011