City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has unveiled his proposed 2019 budget, balanced with reductions in programs and personnel and increases in fees and hikes. There is no increase in the portion of the property tax that arises from the City of Evanston, said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the decision not to increase property taxes was his own, not City Council’s. The Council does, however, have final say in all budget decisions. The Evanston Public Library, which has its own line item for its own budget, is seeking a 1.9% increase in its levy. The City receives about 20% of the total property tax bill.
Including interfund transfers and the Library levy, the total budget is $319 million. In his executive summary of the tentative budget, Mr. Bobkiewicz said that amount is $15 million, or 4.6%, less than the 2018 adopted budget.
The City is projecting a $7.3 million shortfall in the General Fund, the City’s main operating fund. The baseline deficit – that is, the projected increase over the 2018 budget for the same services – is $4.8 million. Added to that are $1 million in debt service for the bonds to pay for the new Robert Crown Center and $1.5 million to build up the reserves, making a $7.3 million projected shortfall in the operating budget for 2019.
To balance the budget, the City Manager has proposed a combination of additional revenues – $3.3 million – and reduced expenses – $4.3 million.
Residents who wish to drive or park in Evanston will likely have to pay more. So might residents who use Uber or Lyft to get around and those who rent their homes on a short-term basis. Funding for the City’s mental health board, victim services, cultural arts and public health education will be curtailed or eliminated.
Public safety is not immune from next year’s budget cuts: The City Manager is proposing to close Fire Station 4, 1817 Washington St., just east of Dodge Avenue. It is the smallest of Evanston’s fire stations but the main one serving the southwest area of the City. One currently employed firefighter/paramedic would be laid off, and none of the eight vacant positions in the Fire Department would be filled. In the Police Department, the proposal is to eliminate five vacant police officer and one police commander positions, all of them currently vacant.
In all, the City Manager proposes a staff reduction of 38.5 positions, of which 17.5 are currently filled. Among the full-time positions proposed to be eliminated are victim advocates, the budget and finance manager, the cultural arts coordinator, the public health educator, an administrative assistant in the City Manager’s office, the legal analyst/liquor license manager, a facility coordinator and an accountant. Three facilities supervisory positions, all part-time and one vacant, would also be eliminated.
Full-time positions the City Manager proposes to add are a budget coordinator, a paralegal, a mechanic; two part-time positions proposed are a customer-service representative and a payroll clerk.
A proposed 11% increase in the City’s water rate would be offset by a 7% decrease in the sewer rate, resulting in “zero impact” on a customer’s water bill, Mr. Bobkiewicz said.
Contributions to the police and the firefighters pension funds would total about $21 million: $9.3 million to the firefighters’ pension fund and $12.8 million to the police pension fund.
Mr. Bobkiewicz has met with Council members individually to or in small groups to discuss his proposed budget and will formally present the budget to the City Council at its Oct. 22 meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Oct. 27. Over the next two weeks, Mr. Bobkiewicz will be meeting residents in each of the City’s nine wards (see sidebar).
In the mea time, community members are invited to visit cityofevanston.org/budget for a link to a new online tool, “Balancing Act,” which will allow them to submit their own version of a balanced budget and provide comments. Using this tool, residents start with the initial baseline deficit budget and adjust major revenues or expenses until they reach a balanced budget.
Residents can provide their input on the 2019 Proposed Budget through any of the following channels:
Mail: City Manager’s Office, 2100 Ridge Ave., Evanston, IL 60201
Some Proposed Increases in Fees and Fines
- Transportation network tax (e.g., Uber and Lyft): increasing tax on rides originating from or ending in Evanston by $.25 – from $.20 to $.45
- Wheel (vehicle) tax: increasing the fee by $10, from $75 to $85 for a car
- Parking: increasing the meter rates – from $1 to $2 per hour in regular lots; from $25 to $.50 per hour in commuter lots
- Parking: increase the expired-meter fine from $20 to $25
- Parking: eliminating free Sunday parking at meters (not eliminating it in garages)
- Parking: increasing residential parking permit fees from $15 to $30 per year.
City staff members have not calculated all of the increased revenue from these proposed changes. Doubling the parking meter rates is projected to bring in $2 million in additional revenue; increases in the expired-ticket fines, about $90,000; and eliminating the free Sunday parking at meters, about $300,000.
Although the City projects it will receive $80,000 in additional revenue from increasing the cost of permits for vacation rentals, that amount is not final. Community Development staff are developing a plan to collect fees from all vacation rentals here, including airbnbs.
Some Proposed Cuts in Programs and Services
- Decrease in Mental Health Board funding: $250,000
- Elimination of Vital Records Program: projected savings of $146,000
- Elimination of Storefront Modernization Program: projected savings of $75,000
- Elimination of unreimbursed overtime for police during Northwestern University home football games and Dillo Day festivities: projected savings of $19,000
- Reorganization of Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department: projected savings of $164,000
- Elimination of Cultural Arts administration: projected savings of $175,000.