Evanston’s Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons presented two reports to a special meeting of the City Council on May 20. The first showed Evanston essentially on target on both revenue and expense sides after the first quarter of 2013. The second asked Council to amend the 2013 budget by increasing expenditures by about $6.6 million, reduced to $4.4 million during the meeting.
The first-quarter report cautions against relying upon results through March 31 as an indicator of full-year performance because so many budget items, such as snow removal and even water sales, are seasonal. That said, the City has realized 26.4 percent of budgeted revenue through the first quarter and spent just 21.9 percent of budgeted expenditures.
Property taxes are paid in two installments, with the first installment representing 55 percent of the full year assessment. Evanston has collected 50.5 percent of budgeted property taxes – signaling a possible shortfall. Property taxes make up approximately $12.5 million of the City’s $84.5 million General Fund, or operating, budget, which excludes water, sewer, pension, solid waste, insurance, federal programs and other targeted funds. The City’s total budget including all funds exceeds $250 million.
To date, real estate transfer taxes, liquor taxes, other taxes and charges for services are well below budget projections, but all are highly affected by seasons. Boosts of sales-tax revenues are expected from both the new Trader Joe’s (set to open in the fall) and the holiday shopping season. On the whole, the first-quarter budget picture presents an inconclusive but cautiously optimistic picture for the full year, Mr. Lyons said.
With a caveat-filled, largely positive report delivered, City staff next asked Council to amend the 2013 budget by increasing expenditures from about $247.4 million to $253.9 million through the addition of line items totaling $6.58 million. Three items stood out to Council: the proposed $2.2 million loan to the Piven Theatre Workshop for Noyes Center improvements; $776,000 added to the Davis Street resurfacing and streetscape project to replace a grant that was anticipated but was not received; and $596,000 to New World Financial to replace the City’s accounting software.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I don’t think the Piven deal has been resolved.” She asked whether Council wanted to discuss including the $2.2 million proposed loan to Piven in the amendment. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz immediately stepped in and volunteered to remove the Piven loan.
“Unless there’s a great call for debate [on Piven tonight], we’ll remove it,” he said. No one objected.
Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl asked if some of the street furniture or other streetscape aspects of the Davis Street project could be removed in order to make up for some of the lost grant funds. Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson said that, yes, certain items could be removed or deferred.
Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, cautioned against taking away street furniture, saying seniors needed such amenities on downtown streets.
With the Davis Street issue unresolved and the Piven-Noyes loan removed, the budget amendment passed unanimously.