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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 debates new funding sources for Evanston infrastructure projects

Shun Graves/The Daily Northwestern
Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss looks on as the City Council discusses the proposed budget programs on Oct. 16 at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Evanston City Council discussed new funding sources for infrastructure projects at a special meeting Monday as the city plans service rate hikes and faces an increasing budget crunch.

City staff first presented the 2024 Capital Improvement Program, which includes a proposed $111 million for infrastructure projects in Evanston, at a September City Council meeting. Monday’s meeting began the process of adding and postponing projects planned for next year, as well as discussing how to fund them.

The 2024 proposal plans for several million dollars more than the previous year’s, which accounted for $103 million. However, the city ultimately adopted a leaner $92.1 million plan.This year’s process might also result in a trim-down.

Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) called for the city to prioritize building a dog park at Grey Park, saying it would bring a “positive energy” to Main Street and the surrounding neighborhood. In Monday’s CIP presentation, the city marked the project as “not prioritized” based on several criteria it developed going into this year.

“The criteria are sort of a yes/no; it’s in or it’s out,” City Engineer Lara Biggs said. “The most important thing we need to do is deal with our life safety challenges in our infrastructure, things that have the potential to cause harm to people.”

Monday’s presentation proposed spending $2.6 million on five projects under the life safety priority, which include some structural repairs. Beyond the projects listed for various priorities in the current CIP proposal, Biggs sought comment from the council on several projects that are not currently considered a priority. 

But after discussing the proposed budget for 2024, the conversation on infrastructure projects inevitably returned to funding. General obligation bonds will fund some CIP projects, while designated sources like the Water Fund will fund other specific projects.

Ald. Devon Reid (8th) proposed spending the city’s excess reserve on CIP projects, saying Evanston should use the money to fund improvements for residents. The $111 million plan arrives amid the broader picture of a proposed property tax hike, inflation and the end of federal pandemic funds.

“If there is any portion of our budget that is more sobering than another, I think our CIP is,” Reid said. “This is where I think we face huge challenges.”

The council discussed Reid’s comments on using reserve funds but came to no consensus and returned to broader budget concerns. After the meeting, he said some rate hikes remain “responsible.” The city has proposed a 68% increase over several years for an average customer’s water and sewage bills to funnel funds toward the Water Fund.

As debates about priorities and funding sources continue, city staff highlighted how many proposed CIP projects and the broader budget align with Evanston’s climate resilience goals. Biggs said 86% of CIP projects incorporate at least one goal.

“Investing in our clean energy future is critically important,” Reid said. “I think there’s more that we need to do there, particularly around bringing some of that clean energy production here.”

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