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Aldermen at the Nov. 18 City Council meeting continued their discussion of the City budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2020.
The discussion included Sunday parking, which is likely to be free at meters again next year, and the sale of recreational marijuana, on which Council members are relying for money for a newly created Reparations Fund.
At about $321 million, the budget contains a 13.1% overall increase in the property tax levies. The budgeted increase is 10.9%, said Kate Lewis Lakin, the City’s Budget Coordinator, but Cook County allows the City to levy the greater amount as a “loss factor,” in case not all revenues come in as projected. The levies represent a combination of those from the City, the Library and General Assistance.
The City’s portion of the property tax bill is about 20%. The two public school districts take up about 68%.
The City allocates its money to several different funds, some of which are intended as self-sustaining – the “enterprise” funds, such as parking – and others intended only for specific uses, such as the General Fund, from which operating expenses, salaries and benefits are paid.
New funds created in this budget are a Reparations Fund and a Human Services Fund. The Human Services fund will hold $3 million earmarked to fund social services; that money would have previously been in the General Fund.
The Reparations Fund will hold money from the tax on recreational marijuana and donations from individuals and organization. The goal of the fund is to address more than a century of institutional discrimination – such as redlining and segregation – perpetrated on Evanston’s black community.
In addition to the nearly 11% increase in the City’s portion of the property tax, the budget contains the 50¢-per-hour increase in the hourly parking rate at City meters except for those designated for commuters, a 1% increase in the amusement tax – from 4% to 5% – and a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana.
City Council’s vote last year to increase non-commuter meter parking to $1.50 per hour was intended as the first phase of the parking-fee increase. The intent was to follow that with another increase to bring the rate to $2 per hour.
Aldermen voted down a motion by Seventh Ward Alderman Eleanor Revelle, requested by several businesses on Central Street to keep the $1.50-per-hour rate there.
Aldermen Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said, “We shouldn’t be doing this. We need to be creative [about getting revenue other than through parking]. We had the opportunity to do this. I’m a little bit miffed at it.”
Interim City Manager Erika Storlie discussed some ins and outs of applying the amusement tax to certain performances. Concerts at Welsh-Ryan Arena, she said, could be subject to the amusement tax if they are brought by a for-profit sponsor. If Northwestern University is the sponsor, the events would not be taxable in that fashion.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said theaters with 65 seats or fewer should not be taxed but theaters with a capacity of more than 65 seats should be covered by the amusement tax.
Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested that the discussion be postponed. “I do think that’s an interesting question,” he said, “but it should be a separate ordinance [from the current one] – a new or amended one.”
Ms. Storlie’s staff will investigate the matter and return with more information.
Marijuana and Reparations
In addition to the taxes levied on the sales of most goods, there will an additional 3% tax on the sales of recreational marijuana. The regular sales tax revenue will be collected and allocated as with other sales transactions. Revenues from the 3% tax will be allocated to the City’s Reparations Fund.
The City estimates it will collect about $250,000 in revenues from that 3% tax, and all of it will go to the Reparations Fund this year and in subsequent years until the City has contributed $10 million to the fund.
Ms. Storlie said the fund is “available for donations.” She also said it “wasn’t clear if the $10 million [from the City] had been agreed upon or not,” in light of the possibility of donations from individuals and businesses.
“It was my intention,” said Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, “that the $10 million would be a commitment from the City and that other donations would be on top of that.” She said she welcomed donations from “banks, universities – all amounts are accepted, even $10 million, and all are tax-deductible.”
Ald. Rainey said, “I think it’s a little early for having that discussion [whether the City has to contribute the full $10 million or whether it would stop its contributions when the fund has $10 million]. We should definitely accept any City contribution. I can’t imagine anyone in the City not agreeing with that.”
Ald. Rue Simmons asked if there was a way for the City to solicit donations on one of the bills sent to residents – having a box to check to contribute.