City Council delays budget vote to next meeting due to fiscal transparency concerns


Daily file photo by Angeli Mittal

The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. City Council will vote for the interim city manager to approve the 2021 budget increase on May 9, after it decided to hold the ordinance Monday.

Jacob Wendler and Kate Walter

City Council held an ordinance Monday that would have enabled Interim City Manager Kelley Gandurski to increase the city’s total budget by over $11 million for the 2021 fiscal year. 

The initial budget, adopted by City Council in November 2020, totaled about $296 million. The city came in more than $30 million under budget in fiscal year 2021 due to various accounting rules related to changes including depreciation and bond refinances. 

However, since Evanston exceeded budgeted expenses for nine funds, City Council is required to adopt a budget amendment to make up for the additional expenditures.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said he was concerned about the millions of dollars in spending that were not authorized by City Council.

“Millions of dollars were approved by this body at some point, and if we approved things that went over budget, that falls on us and that’s our responsibility,” he said. “But there has still remained three, three and a half, maybe even $4 million of items that the council did not approve.”

Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said city departments have flexibility in pursuing spending appropriated by the council, and pushed back on Reid’s claim that City Council did not approve certain expenses.

“I don’t know how that would be possible with every bill’s list coming before City Council,” Cummings said.

Hitesh Desai, the city’s chief financial officer and treasurer, said the unexpected expenditures were largely due to both larger capital projects and pension payments, as three police officers recently left Evanston Police Department.

Desai explained that while these payments are approved by the Pension Board rather than City Council itself, the council approves all contracts with city employees. This includes pension payments, which Illinois state law requires the city to pay. 

Due to the lack of clarity on the additional spending, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) successfully moved to delay the budget vote and requested the council be informed on future funds exceeding budget for urgent matters such as pension payments. 

However, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) emphasized the city’s total expenditures were less than its general budget for 2021, even though it overspent in some areas, pushing back against Kelly with an unsuccessful motion to overturn. 

“No one was really blessed with perfect foresight, and a budget is only an expectation of an amount of money you plan to spend over the course of a year,” Nieuwsma said. “It’s entirely reasonable and not in any indication of poor planning that for some of these we may end up coming in over budget.”

Leslie McMillan, a 7th Ward resident, asked the council to re-evaluate the interim city manager’s approval of the $11.5 million spent over budget. 

“It makes budgeting a farce if you’re simply going to come back and ask people to just approve something retrospectively,” McMillan said. “You have a fiduciary responsibility, all of you… to articulate to your residents why you’re going over those amounts.”

City Council will vote on the approval of the additional budgetary spending at its next meeting May 9.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @jacob.wendler

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @katewalter03

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