At the Nov. 15 City Council meeting, aldermen shuffled the deck but the hand they dealt residents was not materially different: A 3 percent decrease in the proposed 8 percent property tax hike (City portion) was counterweighed by increases in fees and fines. A $5.8 million capital improvement program (CIP) – modest in comparison with those of just a few years ago – may be augmented by up to $1 million from a reserve fund. Only a few alterations are expected on Nov. 28, when Council will consider the budget.

Some residents who spoke on the budget at recent Council meeting opposing the proposed a 7.9 percent increase in the City’s portion of the property tax said they resented the substantial rate hike. Some added that they felt the City lacked transparency by not stating the full amount of the proposed tax increase at public meetings, in public documents or in the budget document itself. The budget document described a proposed 3 percent increase for operating expenses and a 4.91 percent increase for contributions to the firefighter and police pension funds.

Appearing to hear their constituents, aldermen at the Nov. 14 budget meeting asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to come up with alternative strategies to meet expenses without the 3 percent property tax hike for operating expenses. Doing so entailed finding approximately $1.2 million in additional revenues or cuts or a combination of those. Revisions to projected revenues and increases in fees accounted for most of those adjustments. (See sidebar.)

As things now stand, Council is scheduled to approve at its Nov. 27 meeting a final version of the budget with, among other things, a 4.91 percent increase in the City’s portion of the property tax, a 5 percent increase in the water rate, an across-the-City 25 cent increase in parking-meter rates, increases in monthly charges for refuse pickups and adjustments (increases and decreases) in recreation fees. The year’s two apparent hot-button issues appear to have been resolved: The four forestry-worker positions proposed for elimination have been restored, although the secretary position remains eliminated. Plans for the Library’s budget and future appear to be in place as well. (See story on page 4.)

Council Discussion

At the Nov. 15 City Council meeting aldermen appeared to be content for the most part with their previous night’s decision to restore the forestry-worker position; they were not so sanguine about restoring the secretary position, which appears for now to be eliminated. They spent more than four hours plowing through the scenarios presented by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and by their colleagues. If that matchup between the City Council and the proposed City budget was a football game, Fourth Ward Alderman Don Wilson was the quarterback, many of whose attempts at passing budget amendments were incomplete. He made several motions for adjustments, and several of these did not receive even a “second” so as to allow Council discussion.

Ald. Wilson asked that certain recreation fees be adjusted, revising the projected revenues downward by $155,000 – from about $300,000 to $150,000. He said he thought the increases in the fees for ice-time at the Robert Crown Center ice rink and the summer Aquatics Camp would be overly burdensome to families and he did not think the proposed rates “are reflective of our desire to improve the quality of life in Evanston.” His motion was approved 8-1.

Ald. Wilson also made a motion to halve the proposed $500,000 in economic development funds. “We’re basically passing out free money,” he said, “taking the risk for private development.” There was no second to that motion.

Refuse Pickups

Ald. Wilson also proposed the increases in refuse pickup fees that were approved on Nov. 14 but revisited on Nov. 15: a $1/month increase in small-cart pickups – from $6.95 to $7.95 per month – and a $4 per month increase in large-cart pickups – from $10.95 to $14.95 per month.

The City estimated the additional revenue to be about $500,000 for the increase in the large-cart pickups and about $50,000 for the small-cart pickups.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked what would be the outcome if residents decided to turn in their large carts for small carts, thus reducing the number of persons paying the higher charge. She asked whether there are communities undergoing a comparable cart-switchover with which the City could compare notes. She said she wanted this information in order to avoid a fiasco similar to the one a few years ago when the City’s projected revenues of about $750,000 fell short by several hundred thousand dollars.

Mr. Bobkiewicz responded that “very few communities” are as advanced as Evanston in refuse and recycling pickups, so the only communities he would talk with were those the City consulted about yard-waste stickers. “That’s a sad story,” Ald. Burrus said.

Other Adjustments

Aldermen also approved two upward revisions of revenue projections: a $50,000 increase in revenues from the athletic-event tax and a $100,000 increase in projected revenues from the real estate transfer tax.

Mr. Bobkiewicz proposed two additional sources of revenues, which may be considered at the Nov. 28 meeting. One is a transfer of $100,000 to the City’s levy from the Township of Evanston’s Town Fund levy. The second is a transfer of about $1 million from a special assessment fund to the capital improvement fund. The special assessment fund, he said, is a reserve fund for improving sidewalks and has ample money to spare the $1 million.

No Help for the City Clerk

City Clerk Rodney Greene asked the Council to approve funding for a second part-time worker in the Clerk’s office. He said he had sent the Council a memo on Sept. 27, seeking additional help and saying that with a second part-time worker the Clerk’s office could remain open during business hours. At present the office is closed between 1 and 2 p.m. daily. No one on the Council made a motion to that effect. Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested that the Clerk ask for volunteer help since “I don’t sense that there is support on the Council.” Mr. Greene rejected her solution, saying that volunteers would not be helpful, since a lot of time would have to be spent training them.

City Council is expected to vote on Nov. 28 on a budget balanced with, among other things, a 5 percent property tax (City’s portion) increase, a 5 percent water rate hike, increases in parking meter rates and fines. The meeting is scheduled to begin 15 minutes after the end of the Planning and Development Committee meeting that night, and, under Council rules, in no case earlier than 7 p.m.

The capital improvement program targets very basic infrastructure and repair. Earlier the Council had prioritized 17 projects, including repairs to the parking deck and the locker rooms at the Service Center, improvements in the lakefront lagoon area, the Chicago Avenue streetscape, rehabbing Church Street and the sidewalk area between Ridge and Chicago avenue; repairs to the police station, to fire stations #1 and #2 and the Civic Center; a new salt dome; a Citywide evaluation of the pavement and of the signs and streetlights (both by unfunded federal mandate) and sidewalk replacement along Davis Street between Hinman and Orrington avenues.

There could be a wrinkle in carrying out all these projects, however, if the City receives a TIGER II (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to construct a protected bike lane along Church Street nearly the entire distance between Evanston Township High School at Dodge Avenue and Niles North Township High School at Lawler Avenue in Skokie. Aldermen agreed earlier this fall that the City should apply for the grant, which entails a match of about $1.4 million of City money. That money, said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, would have to come from the present list of proposed projects for 2012. The projects with Council’s lowest priorities would be eliminated for 2012: improvements to the Civic Center parking lot lighting; renovations to the service center locker rooms; mechanical upgrades at fire station #1; and Civic Center renovation.

Some Things to Expect in the City’s FY2012 Budget

Although City Council is not expected to approve the final City budger for fiscal year 2012 until Nov. 28, some expected increases in taxes, fees and fines appear below:

• 4.9 percent increase property tax (City’s portion)

• 5 percent increase in the water rate

• Increases in fees for refuse pickups (by $1 for small carts and by $4 for large carts

• $14,923,144 contributions to the police ($8,521,751) and firefighters($6,401,393) pension funds.

• 25-cent increase in parking-meter rates

• Increased collection rates of money owed the City

• $10 increase parking fines (except for expired- meter)

• Elimination of 7 City positions, net; four forestry-workers positions not eliminated

• New: Moving van permit fee

• Increase in one-day liquor license

• Reduction in Support for ECMC