City Council adopts 2016 budget, library tax levy expansion


Daily file photo by Daniel Tian

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz attends a City Council meeting. Aldermen voted to pass Monday the city’s 2016 budget, including a 2 percent increase to fund police and fire pensions.

Julia Jacobs, City Editor

Illinois Budget Crisis

Aldermen voted Monday to approve the city’s 2016 budget, which includes a 2 percent increase to fund pensions. They also passed an expanded Evanston Public Library tax levy to accommodate new programming next year.

The library’s tax levy includes a more than 4 percent increase to fund plans such as a collection expansion and new outreach strategies. Although aldermen passed the levy unanimously, Ald. Ann Rainey (4th) said the tax increase does a “disservice” to the community.

“I don’t care if this tax is $5 a household … $5 counts,” Rainey said. “Next year, if there’s one penny more than 2 percent over the library budget, I will do everything to fight it.”

EPL board president Michael Tannen urged aldermen before the vote to pass the full library tax levy to fund next year’s plans, including 75 rentable Wi-Fi hotspots aimed to provide Internet accessibility to patrons who cannot afford it. In an effort to improve library accessibility to the wider community, the library also plans to introduce a vehicle to distribute materials off-site and is working to establish space in a redeveloped Robert Crown Center, Tannen said.

“We are working very hard with our folks to make sure Robert Crown gets off the ground,” he said.

The city’s approved 2016 budget also includes a higher-than-normal general operations surplus of about $430,000 to provide a cushion for potential state funding cuts, city manager Wally Bobkiewicz told The Daily before Monday’s council meeting.

“(The surplus) is higher given the uncertainty with the state of Illinois,” Bobkiewicz said.

The city typically aims for a general fund surplus in the range of $100,000 to $200,000, he said. However, this year staff aimed to keep its budget flexible considering the prospect of a reduction of its state income tax revenue. State cuts to local government aren’t anticipated until 2016 due to a political standoff over the state budget in Springfield.

The 2015 tax levy was also passed with a nearly 2 percent property tax increase — the necessity of which was initially questioned by some aldermen — to fund pension payments based on new recommendations from the state.  

The evolution of the budget since its initial release in October includes changes suggested by city officials to add $100,000 to fund pension payments and funds to make improvements to a south Evanston shopping center.

During the Nov. 9 City Council meeting, Ald. Peter Braithwaite (2nd) advocated for improvements to the entrance and sidewalks of Main Street Commons Shopping Center, resulting in a $75,000 addition to the budget to begin the process. The bulk of the project’s funding, estimated at $950,000, will be spent in 2017 during construction.

The budget also introduces staffing additions to the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, which the city purchased about a year ago. Additionally, a new Youth Outreach Worker will be financially backed by Northwestern as part of a five-year commitment of $5 million to Evanston.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @juliarebeccaj