Evanston budget officials are keeping an eye on how Northwestern University’s football season progresses – but in a different way than the average sports fan would.

Ryan Field seen from Chancellor Street. The City stands to gain financially if Northwestern’s football games draw ticket-buying fans. (RoundTable file photo)

The City has seen zero athletic tax revenue through mid-2021, with COVID-19 all but grounding the university’s basketball program earlier in the year.

Officials now have their eyes on the football season, “which we could use in a big way,” Hitesh Desai, the City’s Chief Financial Officer told Council members in a midyear financial update at the Sept. 13 Council meeting.

Overall, a number of revenue sources the City depends on are holding their own or exceeding projections, reported Desai and City Budget Coordinator Kate Lewis-Lakin in their report.

Revenues through June came in at $61.4 million, 55% of the budgeted amount, officials said. Expenses, meanwhile, were at $55.3 million, or just about 50% of what was projected at the halfway mark.

A number of the City’s major revenue sources are trending high as of June 30, officials reported. The State income tax, which the City received early, stands at 86% of the budgeted amount; real estate transfer tax and building permit revenues both stand at 77% of the budgeted amount; and an amusement tax, thanks to the addition of streaming services that the City receives, which is at 174% of officials’ budgeted figure.

Other revenues on track include those from sales taxes, liquor taxes and property taxes.

Major revenues trending low as of June 30, meanwhile, include the municipal hotel tax, at 22% of the budgeted amount; parking ticket revenues at 40%; the Evanston motor fuel tax at 42%; and the previously mentioned athletic-contest tax, at a flat zero due to Northwestern’s minimal basketball season at the start of 2021.

Heading into budget year 2020, officials had predicted Welsh-Ryan Arena entertainment events would produce an increase of $200,000 in new athletic and amusement tax revenue.

Officials plant to bolster the City’s Parking Fund, which continues to show low revenue from City garages and meters.

The City is to receive $950,000 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds for capital projects in that area, Lewis-Lakin told Council members.

In addition, the City may be eligible to receive an additional $2.9 million from ARPA, the federal program aiding recovery from COVID-19, based on 2020 parking revenue losses, she said.

Taking note of the parking figures, Eighth Ward Council member Devon Reid suggested officials might want to evaluate the City’s current parking model, which depends on revenues through enforcement.

“We’ve seen both last year and this year, parking fines and motor fuel tax funds take a hit,” he said. “And I think, as we’re preparing for a cleaner environment with alternative modes of transportation, it’s time to start really looking five to 10 years down the line to see how we can start to wean ourselves off of those sources of revenue or find replacements for those sources of revenue, because I think what has happened the last two years is going to be the future.”

At the meeting, officials also released dates for the City’s 2022 budget schedule, targeting Nov. 22 as the adoption date. 

Bob Seidenberg

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.

One reply on “Evanston’s midyear finances: City has stake in a full Northwestern football season”

  1. The headline and lede of this article are misleading. The amount generated by the ticket taxes on NU events is not particularly large–about $1.2 million is the highest it’s ever been, and it’s often below that. A million dollars is not nothing, but as the article points out, the loss of this revenue in 2020 was offset by other sources and by expenses that were lower than projected. The headline inaccurately portrays last year’s loss of the ticket-tax revenue as a larger concern than it is.

    Honestly, a bigger problem than that is the amount of money that Evanston misses out on every year as NU continues to stiff us on its “good neighbor” fund. Just for the sake of comparison, the amount of ticket-tax revenue is dwarfed by the revenue possible if NU made “good neighbor” contributions on par with similar universities. NU continues to have one of the highest endowments in the country–which actually grew during the pandemic, as the value of its stock portfolio went up–yet its “good neighbor” payments are about $1 million per year. Almost all universities with comparable endowments contribute $5 to $10 million per year to their communities as “good neighbor” payments, either through PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) or voluntary payment of property taxes on tax-exempt properties. If NU made similar contributions to Evanston, the City would see 5 to 10 times as much revenue as it does now.

    We can’t force NU to stop being so stingy, but we shouldn’t lose perspective on the overall economics either. Mr. Desai told the Council that the City could “use in a big way” the tax revenue from football tickets. The City could use a less selfish community contribution from NU even more.

Comments are closed.