Chief Financial Officer and Budget Coordinator present City Council with a budget update

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Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai. Desai projected a $12 million revenue loss in the 2020 budget, a $1.4 million jump since the staff’s last projection to City Council.

Julia Richardson, Reporter

Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai and Budget Coordinator Kate Lewis-Lakin projected a revenue loss of $12 million in a 2020 budget update to Evanston City Council Monday.

The $12 million revenue loss is an increase from the $10.6 million staff had projected in a May 26 presentation. Home rule sales and liquor tax revenue, as well as building permit estimates, have increased, but staff anticipates many more decreases in tax revenue, including those in relation to amusement, parking, hotel and athletic areas. The estimates are partially based on the uncertainty of Northwestern’s fall sports seasons due to COVID-19.

“It’s a big loss, even with the streaming tax, which is going into effect in October, but that would have little effect on our current fiscal 2020 budget,” Desai said.

As of last week, Desai said Evanston’s overall budget stands at around $62 million, with a deficit of around $2.5 million. Due to hiring freezes and a few employees choosing to leave or retire, there has been an increase in savings from vacancies. The city has also come to an agreement of ten furlough days with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union and with Evanston Public Library, and is continuing dialogue around furlough days with the Fraternal Order of Police and the Evanston firefighters union. These savings, as well as an adjustment of spending on Dutch Elm Disease injections and other expense cuts, contribute to the balancing of the budget.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) inquired about cutting funds for crossing guards and police in schools to further balance the budget.

“This is a $500,000 plus item in our budget this year and… in our budget next year,” she said. “I am wondering why we haven’t brought that up as an item to remove from our budget. If the schools want the police… perhaps they should take it on as a budget item.”

Interim City Manager Erika Storlie brought up that private schools contribute funds for their crossing guards, and Evanston Township High School/District 202 pays the full cost, but further discussions about both police and crossing guards will occur at a meeting in July.

Lewis-Lakin said Evanston is receiving a grant of $817,632 for a one-year term from the Illinois Department of Public Health to support ongoing COVID-19 efforts and contact tracing, as well as supporting employees in the Evanston Health and Human Services Department.

Direct COVID-19 response expenses are reported to be about $1.2 million, which the city hopes will be covered in part by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The city will also be receiving additional funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act through a program that is distributing funds to municipalities throughout Cook County. The amount is unknown, but it is predicted to be at least $440,000, according to Lewis-Lakin.

“The benefit of this program is something we’re really excited about,” Lewis-Lakin said. “It does cover some expenses that aren’t included in the FEMA Public Assistance Program or other federal grants, so this can include some of our regular-time pay for employees that have really pivoted away from their normal jobs and been dedicated 100 percent to our COVID-19 response.”

Evanston is no longer funding non-congregate housing in hotels, and since stay-at-home orders have been lifted, the funds have been transferred to the affordable housing fund. The city hopes to be reimbursed for these funds through FEMA.

Lewis-Lakin also talked about the 2021 budget, which staff anticipates making changes to due to COVID-19. Although staff plans to look at vacancies within many of its departments, there will be a focus on vacancies in the Health and Human Services Department. The city has started a community needs assessment that will determine the next steps pertaining to these positions.

“Given the nature of the crisis and the fact that we expect COVID-19 and the environment created by it to be ongoing throughout this year and into the next year, we first hope to take a look at those positions to understand which of those needs to be filled on what timeline in order to meet our critical community needs,” Lewis-Lakin said.

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