Expenditures from the General Fund, the City's main operating fund, in FT20.
Expenditures from the General Fund, the City's main operating fund, in FT20.

By a 7-2 vote, Evanston City Council members on Nov. 25 approved the City’s $321 million budget or the fiscal year 2020, which begins on Jan. 1. Sixth Ward Alderman Thomas Suffredin and Ninth Ward Alderman Cicely Fleming were the two “no” votes.

The General Fund, the City’s main fund for salaries, benefits and other operations, is budgeted at $118 million, 3.3% higher than last year.

The budget contains a 10.8% overall increase in the property tax levies, which includes a permitted additional 3% 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%, while the two public school districts combined take up about 68%.

Pension funds remain underfunded; this year the City contributed the amount recommended by its actuary, whereas in some previous years Council had upped that number to address the massive underfunding of the police and firefighter pension funds.

The payments budgeted to go toward municipal employees’, firefighters’ and police officers’ pension funds are as follows:

  • Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF) contribution: $2,155,296
  • Firefighters pension fund contribution: $9,244,368
  • Police officers pension fund: $11,237,784

Expenditures in the Insurance Fund are projected to increase by 2.5%. The City is self-insured up to $1.25 million and maintains insurance in the areas of property, inland marine and paramedic. According to information in the FY20 budget document, expenses incurred in 2018 and 2019 “include costs for major lawsuits that will be funded over the next 3-5 years with transfers from the departments involved in the claims.” One major lawsuit, which the City pursued until its motion for a preliminary injunction was denied, was the James Park litigation, which cost the City, and thus the taxpayers, about $9 million in lawyers’ and experts’ fees.

Payments from the insurance fund for FY20 are budgeted at $19.5 million.

Tax Levies

At $34,851,018, the City tax levy includes the annual property tax for General Operations, the Human Services Fund, Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), Police and Fire Pension Funds, and the Solid Waste Fund and a 3% loss factor. The total is 10.8% higher than last year’s levy.

The Library levy, $7,476,289 – with the 3% loss factor included – represents an increase of 8.5% over the 2018 levy. The General Assistance levy – mandated by the State and levied by the City since the elimination of the governing body of Evanston Township – is $1,113,402, a 21.2% increase over the 2018 levy.

Additional Increases in Fines, Fees and Taxes

In addition to the increase in the City’s portion of the property tax and a quarter-percent increase in the home-rule sales tax (approved earlier this fall), the budget contains, among other tax and fee increases, the following:

  • a 1% increase in the amusement tax – from 4% to 5%
  • a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana
  • a 50¢-per-hour increase in the hourly parking rate at City meters except for those designated for commuters
  • a 5.4% increase in the water rate, offset by a 4.46% decrease in the sewer rate, resulting in no new charges to residents.

Savings and Reimbursements

The City also hopes to recoup expenses from Northwestern University for the work of Public Works employees during athletic and other events at the University. Although the University compensates the City for time spent by Evanston Police Officers during football games and other University functions, it does not do the same for City Public Works employees, who work to assist with signage, barricades and traffic control.

Holding four positions vacant in the Police Department again this year will save about $320,000. Other savings that will likely be realized in the Police Department come from eliminating the now-vacant Records Manager position and reclassifying the Assistant Records Manager to Records Coordinator.

In the Fire Department, two vacant positions will again be held vacant rather than eliminated, with an eye toward having a full complement of firefighters within a few years.  The cost recovery added for certain incidents is intended to be recouped through insurance billing, not from out-or-pocket expenses of the victims.

New Funds

As approved the new budget contains two new funds, the Human Services Fund and the Reparations 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 City’s commitment is $10 million. 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. (See related story)

Remarks on the Budget

During public comment, Evanston resident Albert Gibbs said, “Austerity destroys equity and racial justice. Budget cuts in the past year – the past three to five years – have undeniably punished and not the poor. … To me this appears to be a part of a continuing attack on the least of our citizenry. We cannot afford this any longer. Is this the City of Evanston’s way to run black people and other minorities out of this town? It seems one of our continued practices of maintenance of racial superiority. So I appeal to this City Council: Do the right thing and not the white thing.”

Doreen Price said, “Where are we as a City? Let truth-seeking and wisdom elevate the rule of law.”

Ald. Suffredin and Ald. Fleming explained their votes to their constituents in their ward newsletters sent on Nov. 26.

Ald. Fleming wrote, “I voted ‘No’ to the proposed 2020 City Budget because I continue to feel frustrated by the unwillingness to cut as much spending as possible prior to increasing revenues. In 2018, I supported an ordinance to increase our parking meters fees without fully realizing the impact it would have on our residents and business – I own that. Since then, I have heard nothing but negative feedback from those increases and an overwhelming feeling that even a small (50-cent) increase feels large when many other fees continue to rise without the spending decreasing. There are areas in which we have cut spending, but overall, I am unsatisfied with the cuts. I share your concerns over being ‘nickeled and dimed,’ especially as I see the new Robert Crown Center go up (another vote that I admit being responsible for). The overall lack of willingness to make aggressive budget cuts throughout our City departments caused me to vote ‘No’ on the 2020 Budget.”

She also explained her “no” vote on the levies for the City and the Library; “I voted ‘No’ to the 2020 Tax Levy because of my overall budget concerns listed above, but also due to the unknown impact of the new Cook County assessed property values. I am hopeful that our projections (and the Assessor’s statements) accurately predicted that tax bills may be lowered, but I did not feel comfortable approving such a large increase based on assumptions.

“Finally, I voted ‘No’ for the 2020 Library Tax Levy because I think it is financially irresponsible to raise this levy while not cutting expenses by closing the branch on Chicago and Main (which I communicated to the Library staff last year). I believe it would be fiscally responsible to close the Chicago and Main branch with the addition of the Robert Crown branch (also on Main Street). The library’s unwillingness to do so caused me to vote against this tax levy.” 

Ald. Suffredin’s headline was “Evanston’s 2020 Budget is full of increased taxes and fees and is bad for the 6th Ward.”

He wrote to his constituents, “Evanston’s City Council passed the 2020 Budget on a 7-2 vote at our November 25 meeting. I was one of those voting ‘No.’ The City portion of your property taxes will likely be higher, the City of Evanston just does not know by how much. The Library portion of your property tax bill will increase. The sales tax you pay when shopping in Evanston will be .25% higher. The amusement tax you pay ‘for the privilege of admission to any amusement’ in the City of Evanston will increase from 4% to 5%.  

The rate you pay to park on the street will increase to $2 an hour but Sunday parking will be free. I guess that counts as a win for residents but does not solve the underlying issue that our parking policies are not well thought out, are very aggressively enforced and continue to put our merchants at a disadvantage to neighboring communities”

Next Steps

Under City Council Rule 14.3, the Mayor has the power to “disapprove” of an ordinance or an item within an ordinance dealing with appropriations by withholding his signature from the ordinance. Should the Mayor not sign an ordinance, the item must be returned to City Council within seven days with written objections. If that is not done, the ordinance is deemed approved even without the Mayor’s signature.

Mayor Stephen Hagerty did not indicate any dissatisfaction with the budget.

While in other years, some increases were phased in or deferred for a few months, all the increases in the FY20 budget will be effective as of Jan. 1. 2020.