Aldermen vote to raise debt ceiling


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Mayor Steve Hagerty. Hagerty asked for the initial $10 million debt limit increase to be reduced to $2 million.

Sneha Dey, Development and Recruitment Editor

Aldermen approved a resolution that would increase Evanston’s current debt limit by $2 million during a Monday City Council meeting.

The current limit is estimated at $150 million, according to city documents. The increase, which will raise the debt limit to $152 million, is set to include the bonds proposed to finance the Robert Crown Community Center and any unexpected changes.

The city’s unabated debt is currently at $134 million, according to city documents. The city expects to issue an additional $23 million, which would raise the current debt to over $150 million, explained Hitesh Desai, the city’s chief financial officer.

City staff initially proposed a $10 million raise, but Desai said only a $2 to 3 million raise was necessary.

“I suggested $160 million… just for safety purposes,” Desai said. “It obviously won’t be that high. If the members of city council are uncomfortable, we can change it.”

The $2 million raise passed council with a 6-1 vote. Ald. Robin Rue Simmons (5th) voted against the raise and said she did not support any increases. She said the issue of affordability was “getting out of hand” and was regularly voiced by citizens in her ward.

“Any amount above what we already have voted on and have financially prepared ourselves for as a city is too much of a burden for too many of our residents,” Rue Simmons said.

Rue Simmons encouraged the city to better manage the budget and the services it already provides. She suggested the city turn to private-public partnerships for funds.

The debt service will also be paid out of the future tax levy, the Water Fund revenues and Sewer Fund revenues, as part of the bonds will be allocated for general capital improvements, library improvements and water and sewer infrastructure projects, according to city documents.

City officials entered the 2019 fiscal year with concerns over the operating budget. Aldermen approved the city’s 2019 operating budget of $319 million in November 2018. City staff was tasked with combating a $7.4 million deficit, which was filled through a combination of increased fees and taxes, as well as departmental restructuring.

The proposed bonds for Robert Crown will not exceed $18 million, according to city documents.

Resident Mike Vasilko expressed concern over the rising debt during public comment and asked the proposed bonds be held or cancelled. He has repeatedly said the cost of Robert Crown is too high.

“The city and the citizens do not have this kind of money,” Vasilko said.

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