Proposed Evanston budget increases property taxes, plans for potential cuts

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Illinois Budget Crisis

Under Evanston’s proposed 2016 budget, city residents would see their property taxes rise 0.4 percent.

The city released Friday its proposed budget for the next fiscal year, including a 10 percent growth from the 2015 budget.

The proposed Evanston budget of nearly $295 million grew about $27 million from the previous year’s adopted budget to fulfill additional recommended spending on police and fire pensions. Without the instituted changes on pension payments, the budget growth amounts to about 4 percent from last year.

The city built into the budget proposal an additional $1.5 million in suggested reductions and revenue adjustments with consideration to potential state funding cuts, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz said Friday. Gov. Bruce Rauner initially proposed a 50 percent decrease in funding to the Local Government Distributive Fund, which would deprive the city of $3.75 million. However, the state has been without a budget since the beginning of its fiscal year on July 1, postponing potential state cuts.

Although the proposed city budget assumes Evanston will receive full state funding, it includes recommended reductions for if the state’s passed budget follows through in cutting payments to local governments. The largest suggested reductions include a freeze on some vacant positions in the police and fire departments, a measure that would amount to about $450,000 in savings.

Other reductions include the elimination of the position of chief animal warden and a $50,000 decrease in the city’s contribution to the Evanston Animal Shelter Association, which will become financially independent from the city this month. The proposed reductions would also eliminate stipends to city employees who use their own cell phones for work, a measure that city staff recommended this summer while preparing for potential state slashes.

If the budget stalemate continues in Springfield for rest of the year, it is possible that Evanston could avoid the impact of budget cuts in 2015, Bobkiewicz told The Daily last month. However, the state cuts would affect the city in 2016, requiring compensations in the city’s own budget.

“The prevailing economic climate has shown signs of improvement during the past year, however, the State remains an area of concern for the City of Evanston,” Bobkiewicz said in a news release Friday. “At time of publication, the State continues to operate without a budget for the past four months, since June 30, 2015. State legislators have passed a monthly budget, but have failed to address comprehensive statewide budget issues which may impact local revenue sources.”

The budget also proposes to eliminate one full-time position in the Community Development Department and a part-time position at the Evanston Animal Shelter, Bobkiewicz said. However, City Council will have an option to add up to 1.9 full time equivalent positions, including staff at the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center and a special events coordinator.

The proposed budget will be presented to City Council at its Oct. 19 meeting. There will also be a public hearing to address the budget on Oct. 24 and further discussion in November.

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