Evanston City Council passes 2015 budget, raising water rate by 10 percent

Stephanie Kelly, Assistant City Editor

City Council passed the proposed 2015 budget Monday after it narrowly approved an amendment to include a 10 percent increase in the water utility rate for Evanston residents.

The passed budget stands at $257,268,137, down from more than $260 million, which was originally proposed in October. The current, smaller budget does not include the Evanston Public Library’s budget.

Before the city’s budget passed, aldermen voted 5-4 to pass the 10 percent water-rate increase. Before the vote, some aldermen voiced their opposition to the rate increase and council debated lowering the increase to 5 percent.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th), who voted against the increase, said 10 percent is too much for residents to bear, calling it “regressive.”

“For some of us up here, it has no effect on our life at all,” Rainey said. “It’s real money to real people and it hurts.”

Aldermen who supported the increase said the money would be important in maintaining the infrastructure of the city’s water system. It is a way to show other cities that could be potential water customers that Evanston is committed to providing water, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) said.

Ald. Mark Tendam (6th) recalled two years ago when there were 14 successive breaks in the main along Central Street. Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said the rate increase is a way to avoid another such incident.

“If we don’t get this under control and get this infrastructure done, then we are going to have a series of catastrophic failures,” Wilson said, “and we’re going to be adding onto the water bill like we had to do the sewer bill.”

Council decided to hold its decision on the EPL’s proposed library levy tax until a later date.

Staff introduced the ordinance for the library’s annual property tax levy at the Oct. 25 council meeting. The proposed levy totals more than $5.8 million, which is more than EPL’s funding cap of $5 million, according to city documents. Because the library asked for more than the capped amount, council could choose to reject the request, city attorney Grant Farrar said at the Nov. 10 council meeting.

Rainey suggested discussing the levy further with library staff to try to reach a conclusion.

“It’s extremely irresponsible not to sit down with (the library board),” Rainey said. “This implication that I’ve heard tonight in several speeches is that we don’t care about our infrastructure. Well, that’s just not true.”

City staff will have a special meeting next Monday regarding the proposed levy.

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