Facing another budget gap, City officials asked aldermen at the Aug. 5 City Council meeting to consider a number of revenue-generators not previously considered.

Aldermen quickly knocked one – Red Light/Speed cameras – off their list.

Council members, though, facing some big costs, were not so quick to shelve others – including a possible hike in the home rule sales tax from 1% to 1.25%.

By State law, there is no limit to the amount of sales tax a home-rule entity may charge but the tax may be increased only in increments of .25%.

The tax is in addition to percentages taken out for retail sale items by the State of Illinois (6.25%), Cook County (1.75%) and the Regional Transit Authority (1%). The increase would bring the new combined sales tax to 10.25%.

 Staff estimated the quarter-percent increase would generate new revenue of $1.5 million for a full year, to the estimated $6.3 million the City currently collects. In order to have a Jan. 1 effective date, the City would need a signed ordinance on file with the state by Oct. 1, he said.

For the increase to take effect next July 1, the City would have until April 1.

Currently, surrounding communities with home rule sales tax of 10.25% or higher include Chicago, Skokie, Lincolnwood, Morton Grove, Niles, as well as 10 other Cook County communities, staff reported.

“We would not be doing this if Chicago and Skokie (both at 10.25%) were at a different rate,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “But because they are different rates we think it’s at least appropriate for the Council to discuss.”

At the budget update session, officials presented officials with some other possible revenue increases.

They included expanding the City’s amusement tax to include streaming services, such as Netflix, as well as athletic and recreational activities; a storage unit tax (Skokie’s is 5%); a move to improve cost-recovery for Police and Fire Services; and the quickly nixed red light/speed cameras.

Using red-light/speed cameras here would require a change in State law, because the original legislation was written for communities with a population of more than one million, aldermen were told.

Neighboring Skokie, well under that figure, has red light/speed cameras at several intersections, including one adjacent to Evanston’s border at Oakton Street and McCormick Boulevard.

Those intersections reportedly netted $200,000 in revenue in their first year of use, staff reported.

 Ald. Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asked that the item be withdrawn from discussion.

“Let’s just call it out right now – I don’t think there’s anyone in support for red light/speed cameras,” he said. “Let’s just take that off the list so we’re not distracted.”

In the budget update, officials highlighted a number of revenue and expense changes:

During the first quarter of 2019, multiple snow events caused high overtime in Police, Fire and Public Works. “Poor weather in November and December could put snow-related expenses $300,000 over budget,” officials said in their presentation.

Overall, Police and Fire Department expenses are trending higher than target, officials reported. In the Police Department currently, operational changes are in effect to keep overtime expenses below 2018 costs – with $1.5 million projected by year’s end.

The City could face major costs for capital improvements. Both the Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave., and the City Service Center, located behind it, are in line for major infrastructure repairs. Officials are contemplating a fire truck purchase, a $600,000 item, and a police radio system, estimated at between $1.5 and $2 million.

The budget season officially will kick off Sept. 16, with “Equity Outreach” meetings designed to introduce concepts of equity in budgeting to residents, give an overview of the budget process, and also have guided discussions  to provide feedback, officials said.

The proposed budget is scheduled to be released Oct. 4. Officials have scheduled discussions for City Council meetings in October and November, as well as a Saturday budget hearing scheduled for Oct. 26.

Officials are pegging Nov. 25 as the date for adoption of the budget and tax levies.

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.