Proposed budget recommends property tax increase


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz attends a city council meeting. Bobkiewicz released a proposed 2017 budget for the city on Friday.

Nora Shelly, City Editor

A proposed budget for Evanston’s 2017 fiscal year includes recommendations to hire an equity and empowerment coordinator and raise property taxes to fund police and fire pensions.

The budget also proposes raising property taxes 2.4 percent to fund the police and fire pension funds. The total proposed budget is about $304 million, which is 0.8 percent less than last year’s budget.

The budget, which was released by city manager Wally Bobkiewicz on Friday, includes about $114 million in revenues and about $112 million in spending for the year.

Bobkiewicz said Illinois’ uncertain budgetary state after January has forced Evanston to keep a “lean” budget. This June, the Illinois legislature passed a six-month stop-gap budget after a year-long budget impasse.

Although Evanston’s proposed budget is balanced, the city is preparing to make up to $3.7 million in reductions and revenue adjustments to several funds if state funding is withheld or lessened at some point, Bobkiewicz said.

“We’re struggling still with what the state of Illinois is going to do with us,” Bobkiewicz said. “We’re assuming nothing is changing … but in order for Illinois to balance its budget, something has to change.”

All expected state funds were paid to the city after June’s stopgap budget. But the budget runs out at the end of this year, and it is possible a future budget will not allocate the usual amount of funds to local municipalities.

The proposed property tax increase would help fill pension funds, as those across the state are hurting as a result of state and local policies of withholding or lessening payments to the funds throughout the years. In 2007, Evanston began a concerted effort to increase funding to both pensions. At that point, both funds were underfunded by $145.8 million.

Evanston’s police and fire pension funds are currently funded at about 47 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

“We really need to progressively pursue funding the pensions that haven’t been funding,” Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said. “The numbers are daunting.”

Wilson said the closer the city got to fully funding the pension funds the better.

“I’m pleased that we’re heading or trending in that direction,” he said. “But it’s disappointing because it is money that has to go out the door.”

The equity and empowerment coordinator position was included in the proposed budget as part of the city’s efforts to help organize the various aspects of the city’s equity work, Bobkiewicz said.

The proposed new position is a good move, Wilson said. The city has several parties working on equity, he said, including city staff, community members and non-profit organizations.

“As a community, we’ve done a lot of different things to try to bring … fairness opportunities to all members of the community,” he said. “This is an opportunity to have someone coordinate some of those efforts.”

Efforts to consolidate committees and boards across Evanston’s government have not resulted in the reduction of the total budget, Bobkiewicz said. City employees who serve on any of the committees — which include the Mental Health Board and the Housing and Homelessness Commission — typically do that work in addition to their other responsibilities.

The proposal will be introduced at the City Council meeting on Oct. 17. A meeting for public input will be held on Oct. 29. A final budget will likely be approved in late November, Bobkiewicz said.

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