Mayor Daniel Biss, speaking toward the end of the special City Council meeting Monday night to outline the city staff’s budget proposal, said he could not support the budget as presented.

Mayor Daniel Biss at this year’s State of the City address.

He said not enough was done to balance saving and efficiency with spending and expansion.

Staff presented City Council Oct. 17 with a 500-page proposed 2023 fiscal year budget of $402,510,693 – a $42.1 million increase from 2022.

And when the presentation was over, Biss said: “I’m not able to support the budget that was published on the website and I just wanted to be transparent and explain why.

“It proposes a property tax increase and it proposes to essentially dip into ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] funding to achieve balance.

“And I think a situation where all of that is necessary has to come with real serious evidence that we’ve done everything we can to find every possible savings and efficiency.

“I don’t think it is consistent with the expansion and staff that is being proposed. So, obviously this is a starting point.”

Biss was not the only one to question the proposed budgdet.

Council members Clare Kelly (1st Ward), Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) pushed back on expenditures, especially the Capital Improvement Budget proposal, which came in at $103 million. 

Burns also asked for more detail on the money for park renovation.

The proposed budget seeks some $3 million for 419 new windows for the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave. Yet the City Council has been kicking around whether or not the building will continue to be the seat of the government. “I wouldn’t advise spending that next year,” Kelly said.

In fact, staff recommended that $1.3 million be spent on consulting services to explore a possible move, something council members did not seem to warm up to. 

Kelly said she would also like to see funding to fix Fountain Square removed from the budget as the project is in litigation right now.

Nieuwsma asked of the 17 projects proposed that were ready to go out for bidding, were any of them “not rated at a level four in need?” Translated, that would mean what could be put off.

The budget also includes a step-up to increase the city’s reserves, from the city’s 16.6% to 20%, which Burns said he didn’t think sounded like a wise fiscal move in this year’s budget.

Kelly said she wanted to see the proposal include a way to fully fund the city’s obligation to firefighter and police officer pension funds without a levy. At this point, said David Livingston, chair of the Finance and Budget Committee, because of the current financial landscape, the pension funds are under 60%.

The budget also proposes to hire about 39 new staff, spending about $2.4 million.

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.

And when it comes to extra costs for taxpayers, there are three:

  • 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.

But as Biss said, the process is only at the beginning.

There are at least four more full city hearings scheduled, with one town hall in Spanish.  Each of the council members also was asking to have the budget team come to the individual ward meetings. The final date for approval is most likely Nov. 21, although it can go as late as Dec. 31. 

Here is the upcoming schedule:

  • Oct. 24: Budget Public Hearing at City Council
  • Oct. 26: Budget Town Hall (Spanish)
  • Nov. 3: Budget Town Hall (English)
  • Nov. 7: Truth in Taxation Public Hearing at City Council
  • Nov. 21: Targeted budget adoption date
  • Dec. 28: Tax levy filing deadline
  • Dec. 31: Budget approval deadline

Susy Schultz

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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  1. Thank you Mayor Biss! I agree that the budget is inflated even if we try to hire all the slots. Our Finance Officer is correct that the numbers are too high given the reality of hiring. Let’s avoid increases this year but still find and hire resources we need.

  2. “The proposed budget seeks some $3 million for 419 new windows for the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.”
    At around $7000 per window, I’m curious about what makes these windows so special.