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Council members debated long and hard on Feb. 27 to hammer out a budget balanced with a 7.02 percent increase in the City’s portion of the property tax.
City figures show the increase would be about 38¢ per day on a $10,000 property tax bill. The City’s portion of the property tax is about 20 percent of the total; the two school districts’ combined share is about 67 percent of the total tax bill.
The vote was 8-1, with Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, the sole “no” vote. She castigated her colleagues for their rejection of a 1 percent tax on prepared food and beverages that was projected to generate about $800,000 annually, with the revenue dedicated to the firefighters’ and police pension funds.
In addition to the taxes and fees approved on Feb. 25, aldermen approved a registration fee for rental units – a flat $50 per building, regardless of the number of units. Two days before, at the Feb. 25 Council meeting, they had voted down an ordinance that would require licensing of all rental units at $40 per unit.
Aldermen also tacked on an additional $1.95-per-month refuse collection charge to the water bill. This will allow the City to recoup its full cost of refuse collection, said City Manager Julia Carroll.
They also increased the wheel tax to $75 per vehicle sticker, parking rates in downtown meters from 50¢ to 75¢ per hour, and the motor fuel tax by 1¢ per gallon of gasoline purchased in Evanston. John Burke of the City’s transportation division said the cost to change the parking meters would be less than $1,000.
Aldermen agreed to fund the City’s Mental Health Board at the same level as last year (about $844,000) rather than cut the funding by 10 percent, as had been proposed last week. They also agreed to allocate an additional $50,000 for programming for Mason Park. The two branch libraries and the elm-tree inoculation program, spared by an earlier Council decision, remained untouched.
By law, aldermen had to approve a balanced budget by March 1.
Contributions to the firefighters’ and police pension funds increased this year, as the City’s unfunded liability to the two funds reached nearly $140 million as of last March. Aldermen voted several weeks ago to make the contribution to the funds as determined by the new actuary. (See separate story.)
Reorganization at the Civic Center, said to be a three-year restructuring process, is creating vacancies – both through early retirement and consolidation of departments and services. By not filling many of these vacant positions, the City will garner ongoing savings, Ms. Carroll said, helping with future budgets.
Department-head vacancies will, for the most part, be filled. The position of assistant director of mental health services will not be filled when Harvey Saver retires later this year. Although Mr. Saver’s title is “assistant director,” there is no director; some of his duties will be subsumed into a different, lower-paid position later in the year, said Ms. Carroll. (See story in Health and Fitness.)
In the little time they found for policy discussion, Ald. Rainey chided her colleagues for their rejection of the prepared food and beverages tax. “You’re adding [a refuse collection fee] onto the water and sewer bill instead of having people pay a penny on the dollar when they go out to dinner.” She said the refuse collection fee hike was “regressive.”
Ald. Moran disagreed, saying the City should charge its full cost for refuse collection. “We get into trouble sometimes when we implement a program and don’t charge the full amount for it,” he said.
Ald. Wynne suggested that the City approach School District 65 about paying for its crossing guards. “The high school pays for its crossing guards,” she said. “It’s the District’s responsibility, but it’s really all our responsibility.” Ms. Carroll said she would initiate talks with District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy in the next few months.
Mayor Lorraine Morton, who during the preceding weeks frequently asked the aldermen not to increase taxes, appeared resigned by the end of the evening.
“I’ve been around here a long time, and I think individual members of the Council have spent time scrutinizing the budget and doing what they could to resolve the issue,” the Mayor said.
Some Hot-Ticket Budget Items
Property tax (City’s portion) increased 7.02 percent
Business licenses (varying increases; new categories to be licensed)
Rental unit registration fee (new: $50/building)
Increase in charge for refuse collection ($1.95/month)
Parking meter rate increase to 75¢/hour downtown
Vehicle sticker price increase (“”wheel tax”” to $75)
Non-resident parking permits (increased to $150)
Elm tree inoculation program
Mason Park programming (additional $50,000)
Mental Health Board funding (same level as last year, $844,000)