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With only a few squawks, City Council approved the City’s budget for 2013 at its Nov. 26 meeting. Aldermen unanimously approved the $248 million budget for the City’s 2013 fiscal year.
The proposed allocations to the firefighters and police officers pension funds are $7,560,000 and $9,486,769, respectively. These amounts reflect the recommendations of the City’s actuary. A separate capital improvements program will be about $6 million.
The budget is balanced with some new and some increased fees but with no increase in the City’s portion of the property tax. The City of Evanston takes about 21 percent of the overall property tax bill; the two public school districts take about 68 percent, and other taxing bodies, such as Oakton Community College and the North Shore Mosquito Abatement District, take the remainder.
Though some fees and fines will be increased next year, rosier projections – or the fact that all Council members will be seeking re-election in April – may account for the lack of controversy and stable costs to Evanston taxpayers.
New this year as a fixed item is the tax levy for the Library. Until this year, the Library submitted a proposed budget and Council members would deliberate those figures as they would any other proposed departmental budget.
Because the Library Board of Trustees decided to follow the State Library Act and be independent from the Council, they submitted their own budget. Because they understood that residents would be scrutinizing their decisions in this year of transition, some Board members said, they chose not to increase the levy for fiscal year 2013.
Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey said she objected to the transition to the present status of the Library board because they are taxing without representation. Though not elected, Library Board members are appointed by the Mayor, an elected official.
Council members also debated the mid-year 3 percent hike in water rates proposed in the budget for capital improvements to water-related infrastructure.
In the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, held shortly before the City Council meeting, aldermen voted 4-1 against the rate hike, possibly because they wanted the full Council to deliberate the issue.
The 3 percent water-rate hike is scheduled for July of next year, the last of three water rate hikes approved by the City Council a few years ago. Utilities Director Dave Stoneback said the increase would cost the average household, whose use is about 86,000 gallons of water per year, an additional $6 per year.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who said he has heard several people complain about the high water rates in Evanston, tried to distinguish between the water charges and the charges that appear on the water bill. He said that since water, sewer, refuse and recycling rates appear on the water bill, though they are spelled out, many residents do not notice the billing consolidation. Thus when one of those rates is increased, many appear to believe that only the water rate has increased. “We’re not getting the word out,” he said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz also said he felt the City Council had been “inconsistent” about [water] rates. He said if the rate is not increased now, “then we might come back 12 months from now with a larger rate [increase].”
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl added, “And as we’re hoping to make money on water, it would, I think, be an unwise move to skimp on infrastructure.”
The measure authorizing a 3 percent water rate hike, effective July 1, 2013, passed the Council unanimously.