1st and 4th Wards discuss Evanston’s proposed budget

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Emma Edmund/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th). Wilson expressed concerns that residents in apartment buildings could get hit hard by the recent property reassessment.

Emma Edmund, Assistant City Editor

Evanston residents, aldermen and city staff discussed possible concerns about the proposed 2020-2021 budget at Tuesday’s joint 1st and 4th ward meeting.

The two-year proposed budget was presented to City Council for review in early October, and the city must adopt the 2020 portion by Dec. 31. Hitesh Desai, the city’s chief financial officer, gave residents a presentation about the general aspects of the proposed budget.

Desai went over the baseline revenue for the General Fund, the city’s main operating fund. The city has predicted over $118 million in revenue for the 2020 General Fund, including increases in state use tax and income tax, an increase of about $924,000 in recreation fee revenue from the new Robert Crown Community Center and a decrease in the parking tax. The city expects just under $118 million in expenses, which include costs for the Robert Crown Community Center and social services consolidated in the Health and Human Services Department.

Ald. Donald Wilson (4th) said he knew some residents are concerned about the expenses associated with the Robert Crown Center. However, he emphasized that part of the center’s business model includes a built-in maintenance fund, so the center will have a way to pay for the inevitable repairs and expenses that will arise in the future.

“These things are extraordinarily expensive,” Wilson said in reference to unexpected expenses, which the maintenance fund is designed to avoid. “We torture over this. The past few years were really, really hard.”

Desai also discussed how the burden of the property tax is expected to shift from residential properties to commercial properties.

One negative impact of the tax burden shift is the impact on residents who live in apartment buildings, which Wilson said are considered commercial properties in Cook County.

Wilson added that someone living in an apartment is likely under more financial strain than someone living in a $700,000 house. He said the entire community should be worried about the inequity of a possible tax increase on apartments but that the city has relatively little control over this change.

Residents also brought up other concerns. Resident Betty Hayford asked if closing one of the fire stations, which was debated in 2018, was still on the table as a way to cut costs.

Wilson said while the station will remain open, some unfilled positions within the police department are still unfilled, and that police and fire unions have made “some compromises.”

Residents also brought up the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center, which needs an estimated $20 million in repairs, according to Ald. Judy Fiske (1st). Wilson said the city is undergoing a needs assessment to see if the city can reduce its space for administrative needs and rent out the extra space as a way to generate revenue.

Residents also raised the idea of reparations for black residents due to past injustices. The city recently approved a proposal to move forward with reparations plans, but has yet to come up with specifics.

“We’ve had general conversations,” said Fiske. “We’re just really at the beginning of this, and the conversation hasn’t really extended to a conversation with the full council.”

One resident expressed skepticism that reparations will even come up in time for the budget to be adopted, although Wilson said some aldermen want something worked out this year.

In general, though, the budget is still up for debate, and the aldermen encouraged resident input as they work on finalizing the budget for fiscal year 2020.

“This isn’t set in stone,” Wilson said. “Anything is in play, theoretically.”

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