The proposed Evanston 2023 budget was introduced to the media earlier this week in a phone call. We got an advance look at an extensive document with explanations from some of the top authors, including City Manger Luke Stowe.

The total proposed 2023 fiscal year budget is $402,510,693 – a $42.1 million increase from 2022.

What would it mean to you as an Evanstonian? This year, it would mean you’d be paying more in property tax, a slightly higher rate for water and a little bit more in solid waste costs.

But the proposed budget and its presentation also offer proof that those government services you are paying for are actually working for you. This document really gives you a sense of exactly where your money is being spent.

It’s not an easy read, as is true of most budgets. But it is compelling, from the first page that contains the city’s vision and mission through to the last, which is the end of a six-page glossary of terms. The final entry is “valuation (100 percent).”

What’s in the numbers?

It’s often said that a budget is really a moral document, as it allows you to look under the hood and see if a community’s actions are speaking as loud as its words. Are you really spending the money where you say you are and where it is needed?

The tone of this budget is get-back-to-business-and-let’s-clean-up-some-issues. There is spending on water treatment as well as sustainability. It is adding to workforce development and making sure there is another ambulance in town – something the budget document makes a case for, showing the need in a city of Evanston’s size.

It’s dealing with affordable housing, mental health and the vagaries of the economy, while explaining why the Fire Department needs to replace its SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus) equipment and its cardiac monitors for a one-time cost of $690,000. It is impressive in its scope.

The process to put this document together starts in June. So for those keeping score, it is not officially Stowe’s first budget. It was in the works months before he was hired.

It will officially be presented to the City Council on Monday, Oct. 17. And after a series of hearings and discussions, it is scheduled to be passed by Nov. 21.

Proposed spending

There is spending, as the city has money for a variety of reasons. Revenues are beginning to come back from the height of the pandemic losses, there was personnel loss and there was federal rescue money that came in.

But there is a cautionary cloud over the spending. The economic forecast the budget document gives us is one we are already living: inflation, uncertainty and possible recession.

So there will be hiring for about 39-ish new jobs (see discussion below). The city is projecting it will spend about $2.4 million on new hires.

There will be a pay increase for current staff – about 4.5% for nonunion employees. And depending on the negotiations (all union contracts are up for renewal), likely a 4% to 5% pay increase for union workers as well

There will also be projects, but they are presented as practical and in some cases very necessary. There is $103 million in the Capital Improvement budget for repaving, resurfacing and repairs of sidewalks, alleys and parks. The big-ticket item of $45.5 million is to fix and clean up the city’s water treatment process and facilities. It’s not fancy, but crucial infrastructure work that needs attention.

When it comes to extra costs for the taxpayers, here is the breakdown:

  • Property tax: The city is anticipating a 3.5% increase in the levy. But when you add that to the proposed library increase, the overall increase would be about 4% for homeowners. Budget officials said it would come out to about $64 per $300,000 in assessed home value.
  • Water: 5% increase to the water rate to cover the cost of the City’s Lead Service Line Replacement Workforce Development Program, which would work out to $13.50 more per year for an average Evanston resident or $2.25 more per bimonthly bill.
  • Solid Waste: 1.8% increase in rates, which translates to a $2.19 annual increase for households with a 65-gallon refuse container or a $4.95 increase for households with a 95-gallon refuse container.

The questions

The budget is 500 pages. Reading it is interesting and frustrating, as it begs more than a few questions.

One perplexing question concerns the hiring. The budget transmittal letter, which is essentially a summary, says there will be 22.5 new positions via the General Fund, which seems very straightforward, right?

Yet on page 480 of the full budget document, after a 15-page calculation of positions, it gives the total of full-time employees in the city in 2022 as 819.39, the equivalent 2023 total as 867.47 and claims in a chart there are actually 48.08 new positions.

That is followed by a definitive statement on page 481, saying the total is 39 positions. It’s not exactly straightforward, but the RoundTable is sure there is a clear answer.

There will be time to sort things out. And the city is asking what you think. Officials are giving you six ways to give feedback, from snail mail to social media to speaking at a town hall.

Below is the official timetable (which does not include two yet-to-be scheduled town halls, one in Spanish).

  • Monday, Oct. 10: 2023 Proposed budget available on city website
  • Monday, Oct. 17: Presentation of 2023 proposed budget at City Council
  • Monday, Oct. 24: Budget public hearing at City Council
  • Monday, Nov. 7: Truth in Taxation public hearing at City Council
  • Monday, Nov. 21: Targeted budget adoption date
  • Wednesday, Dec. 28: Tax levy filing deadline
  • Saturday, Dec. 31: Budget approval deadline

Here is the city’s news release and the official budget page from its website.

The RoundTable has been covering the lead-up to the budget via our reporting on various city meetings. And we promise to keep at it, telling you what we know and what we don’t know and what it means to you.

Susy Schultz is the editor of the Evanston Roundtable. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and is the former president of Public Narrative, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching journalists and...

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