City Manager Luke Stowe unveiled a proposed City of Evanston budget for 2023 on Monday afternoon that calls for a 4% increase in property taxes and a nearly 12% increase in total city spending.
City staff estimate that the property tax increase will add $64 to the City’s share of the tax bill for a house with a property assessment of $300,000.
Much of the increase in total spending is the result of capital improvement projects at the city’s water plant, which Deputy City Manager Dave Stoneback says is expected to be paid for by utility revenues. other communities to which Evanston sells water, rather than by residents of Evanston.
The city’s property tax has increased nearly 25% over the past six years, although it has remained stable in the 2022 city budget.
Stowe said, “We have a few council members who are interested ‘in having no property tax increase for 2023, but ‘others are more interested in providing additional programs and services.”
“We have presented this draft budget and will continue to seek input from council and the community,” he added.
The city’s chief financial officer, Hitesh Desai, said the city had accumulated substantial surpluses in several funds and would establish a deficit budget in these funds next year to reduce these balances.
Of the $402 million in planned spending, only $371 million is expected to be covered by 2023 revenue, meaning the city would spend about $31 million from reserves in various funds.
But Desai says fiscal turmoil during the pandemic has led officials to conclude that the city’s current policy of maintaining a two-month reserve in the general fund — or 16.67% of planned annual spending — is not. quite sufficient.
The budget therefore proposes to begin a three-year process to increase the general fund reserve level to 20% by 2025, increasing it to 18% next year.
The city’s revenues have increased this year — but Desai says that’s largely the result of high rates of inflation, which will also increase the city’s costs in the future.
The budget calls for a general wage increase of 4.5% for non-unionized employees. The city is also negotiating new contracts with its four employee unions to replace agreements that expire at the end of this year.
The budget calls for the addition of 22.5 new and restored general fund positions, including seven new firefighters/paramedics to allow for the full staffing of the city’s third ambulance.
While the city plans to work to fill 27 vacant positions within the police department, Stowe says the budget does not include restoring another dozen police jobs that were cut from the budget in the spring of 2020.
The city council is due to have its first budget discussion at a special meeting on Monday, October 17.
Various public hearings and community meetings will follow, with the Board expected to approve a final budget before Thanksgiving.