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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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City Council talks funding, debates bonds for proposed 2024 Capital Improvement Program

Daily file photo by Colin Boyle
The Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center. Evanston’s proposed 2024 Capital Improvement Program totals $111 million, an increase from previous years.

Amid concerns of funding, Evanston City Council began discussing proposed 2024 Capital Improvement Program projects at a special meeting Monday night.

The CIP typically allocates $40 to $90 million on the annual budget toward citywide infrastructure projects, and the 2023 CIP amounted to $92.5 million. The proposed 2024 CIP, however, comes in at $111 million — a number that city engineer Lara Biggs said is “more than we could execute with current staff and resources.”

Much of the 2024 CIP is going toward the 1909 water intake replacement project, an ongoing project to replace the city’s oldest water intake providing drinking water to residents. There is nearly $47 million being allocated toward this project, and it is a major reason why this year’s CIP amount is so inflated, Biggs said.

The city also hopes to tackle two major projects with the 2024 CIP — replacing aging water mains and upgrading outdated parks and facilities.

However, as Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) noted, “our capital needs far outweigh available funding.” In her presentation, Biggs referred to the current proposed 2024 CIP as a “list of needs,” and that the city would need to work on prioritizing a few major parts of the program over the coming weeks.

With funding tight, the big question at Monday’s meeting was how to secure funding for the 2024 CIP without drastically increasing the city’s debt. Currently, $32.2 million of the proposed $111 million CIP is slated to come from general obligation bonds. 

As several public commenters pointed out, Evanston has often issued bonds to fund CIP projects. According to the city’s website, bonds for general city projects are paid off by property taxes. As of a 2021 report, the city had accrued $145 million in tax-supported debt.

“Why is bond issuance our first go-to for revenue?” asked public commenter Meg Welch. 

Councilmembers noted they haven’t taken out any new bonds in the past two years, which has allowed them to roll over $34 million in debt. Still, debt remains high, Ald. Clare Kelly (1st) noted. 

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) advocated for taking out more bonds for the coming year, citing the lack of bonds taken out in the past two years. Councilmembers acknowledged across the board that it would eventually be necessary to take out more bonds. Hitesh Desai, the city’s Chief Financial Officer, said the finance and budget committee has also looked into taking out a line of credit — an option Desai said is more temporary, but could come with a higher interest rate.

While Nieuwsma and Kelly pushed back on fears that the city was “spiraling into debt,” suggested a more cautious approach.

“Let’s hold off on issuing bonds (until 2024), but when we do, let’s try and stick to the trends that we’ve established over the last few years and not issue more debt than we retire,” Nieuwsma said.

With tough decisions on the 2024 CIP still to come, councilmembers said they aim to keep sustainability and equity goals in mind as they figure out what to prioritize.

Reid noted that councilmembers should remain conscious of policies that won’t “overburden working class Evanstonians,” and avoid sources of revenue that could fall too heavily on taxpayers.

“Whether we raise property taxes, whether we issue new bonds, how much we’re gonna issue in new bonds, we should be thinking about new revenue and how we can do that in a way that is progressive,” he said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @lilylcarey

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