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.
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.