Evanston residents express concerns about transparency around city’s proposed budget


Jeremy Fredricks/The Daily Northwestern

Evanston Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai presents the 2023 proposed budget to residents at a Thursday town hall. Residents expressed concerns about several aspects of the budget, especially transparency, during the town hall.

Jeremy Fredricks, Reporter

About 10 Evanston residents gathered to raise concerns about a lack of transparency around the city’s 2023 proposed budget at a Thursday town hall. 

The proposed budget of about $402.5 million would be an 11.7% increase from last year. It features more funding to help the city lower carbon emissions under the Climate Action and Resilience Plan and to hire additional staffers for a variety of departments. About a quarter of the budget will support infrastructure and civic projects under the Capital Improvement Plan. 

Hosted at the Evanston Ecology Center, the Thursday event was the city’s second town hall on the subject, with the first one held in Spanish on Oct. 26.

Trisha Connolly was one of several residents who pointed to a lack of transparency from the city in its past and current financial affairs. 

“People are not going to be able to stay in this town, if that’s the train that we continue to drive,” Connolly said. “I feel like we don’t have a holistic picture.”

Evanston Chief Financial Officer Hitesh Desai and Budget Manager Clayton Black delivered a presentation on the proposal before opening the floor to resident comment. 

A previous version of the budget included a 4% property tax increase, but that iteration was scrapped due to concerns about its potential impact on the cost of living for Evanston homeowners.

Regarding concerns about an increase in cost of living, Black pointed to a report from Evanston Now that showed the city’s 8.17% composite property tax rate is lower than nearby municipalities.

“Most of that is due to the efficiencies of a township,” Black said. “Administration costs and some of those hiring costs aren’t quite as high.”

More than $800,000 of the budget will be allocated to the Sustainability Fund, which aims to accelerate CARP’s progress. Evanston has cut carbon emissions by 38% since 2005, according to Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator Cara Pratt, and aims to reach a 50% reduction by 2025. The budget will add two sustainability specialists to staff, and several municipal buildings will implement solar energy options. 

The city also plans to add 39 civic positions, 22.5 of which will be in general services, eight in the Water Fund and the rest spread out across other departments. 

A $23.6 million increase in the Water Fund accounts for most of the budget increase. Residents will face a 5% increase in the water rate and a 1.8% increase in solid waste fees.

City Council will hold a special meeting to discuss the budget Monday and aims to adopt it two weeks after that, with the deadline for approval set for Dec. 31.

“We give the larger picture to City Council,” Desai said. “Ultimately (it’s) for City Council to decide.”

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