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On Nov. 23, City Council unanimously approved its budget for fiscal year 2016, beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Excluding inter-fund transfers, the total budget is about $252 million, which includes about $7.4 million budgeted by the Evanston Public Library. The Library’s budget is determined by the Library’s Board of Trustees, but City Council levies the Library’s property taxes.

There is a surplus of $432,515. City officials, however, are still concerned about the impact of legislation pending in Springfield, which may negatively impact the City’s finances. An additional $1.5 million in potential reductions and revenue adjustments have been identified pending what happens in Springfield.

The total full-time equivalent employees (FTE) of the City are budgeted at 819.6 FTEs, an increase by 0.9 more than 2015. The City is planning to add an electrical inspector/plan reviewer (1 FTE), an outreach worker (1 FTE), a transportation and mobility coordinator (1 FTE), a part time special events coordinator (0.4 FTE), and 1.5 FTEs for the Gibbs Morrison Cultural Center.

The City is planning to eliminate four FTE positions: the community engagement specialist, an administrative secretary, the chief animal warden, and director of public works.

Relatively few changes were made to the budget since it was presented in October. In line with a discussion at the Council’s Nov. 9 meeting, the budget includes an additional $100,000 to be paid into the City’s police and firefighter pension funds and an additional $75,000 to be used for capital improvements for Main Street Commons.

In accord with a memorandum presented to Council on Nov. 9, the final budget also increases the capital expenditures of the Howard-Hartrey TIF from $1 million (which was proposed in the original budget) to $1.6 million and includes $200,000 for economic development. This will reduce the surplus in the TIF from $1,106,273, as originally budgeted, to $306,273. 

Because a surplus in a TIF fund is distributed to the taxing bodies at the expiration of the TIF, spending down a surplus reduces the amount that might otherwise be paid to other taxing bodies, including School Districts 65 and 202.

The City’s budget includes an $800,000, or 2%, increase in the City’s share of property taxes, which will go toward funding police and firefighter pensions. The Library’s budget includes a net increase of $21,784, or 0.3%, in the Library’s share of property taxes. Collectively, the amount levied for the City and Library is pegged at $821,784, a 1.8% increase over the prior year.

For a home with a market value of $400,000, the impact would be less than $37 per year, according to budget documents.

“There are no other proposed tax or fee increases,” City Manager Wally  Bobkiewicz said previously. In September, the City increased fines for parking violations in anticipation of potential cuts in State funding.

By Shawn Jones

ouncil approved four property tax levies on Nov. 23 – the first and largest being “annual property tax for General Fund Operations, Illinois municipal Retirement Fund, Police and Fire Pension Funds, and General Assistance Fund.” According to a memo prepared by City CFO Marty Lyons, taxes collected “for general obligation debt service [are] handled differently” in that Cook “County will automatically levy an amount” to cover “debt payments for both principal and interest.”

The bottom line – the levy passed Monday night totaled about $28.5 million of the City’s budget. When debt service and the library levy are added in, the total amount collected from property taxes reaches about $46.4 million, or about 15% of the City’s total budget. Property taxes collected are expected to increase about 1.8% over last year.

Council also passed the library tax levy, expected to provide almost $6.2 million to fund library operations. The library levy increases 4.14% over last year’s levy for operations. Library increases are capped under state law, and the proposed budget exceeded the cap. As a home rule municipality, Evanston can exceed the cap by vote of Council, and Council voted 9-0 for the library levy.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, voted for the library levy, but not quietly. “I think the library board has done the community a huge disservice,” she said, saying the 4% increase, in excess of that allowed by law, was too much. “Next year if there is one penny over 2% [increase], I will do everything to fight it,” she said. The library budget lags far behind that of similar nearby communities, and has for years, according to data provided by the library board.

The former township levy has disappeared from Evanston property owners’ tax bills, and General Assistance funds are now collected with the general property tax levy. This year, the City expects to collect about $816,000.

Pensions make up the bulk of funds collected, with IMRF accounting for about $2.7 million, fire pension about $7.2 million and police pension about $9.2 million of the $28.5 million. All numbers are noted as “expected,” because not all property tax bills are paid.  According to the staff memo, the City expects about 2% to go uncollected, but that number can fluctuate.

Council also passed levies for two special service areas. The downtown SSA expects about $330,000 to fund Downtown Evanston operations. The brand new Dempster and Main business district SSA expects an initial collection of about $214,000.