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Evanston boosts uses property sales taxes to boost reparations fund

Evanston’s Reparations Committee is searching for new revenue sources to bolster the reparations fund after cannabis tax collections failed to meet it’s $10 million goal.

State statute 35 ILCS 120-11 doesn’t allow the city to reveal the amount of cannabis tax revenue that has been collected since there are fewer than five dispensaries in the city, according to the city manager’s office.

Committee member Robin Rue Simmons suggested using a portion of the city’s real estate transfer tax on property sales over $1.5 million. The tax imposes a $5 fee for every $1,000 of value on sales up to $1.5 million; $7 for every $1,000 of value on sales between $1.5 million and $5 million, and $9 for every $1,000 of value on sales over $5 million.

Based on 2021 data from the city, real estate transfer tax revenue over $1.5 million exceeded $3 million. As of Sept. 30 of this year, $1.7 million has been collected.

Evanston City Council members approved the proposal Nov. 14, which will transfer $1 million to the reparations fund. This is on top of the $400,000 already allocated in the city’s 2023 budget. Council member Eleanor Revelle said these funds would cover reparations distributions for 56 people.

Because the funds are taxes, the money likely won’t come in one lump sum but will begin rolling in starting in 2023.

Councilmember Devon Reid said the City Council is continuing to look for funding sources that can be disbursed quickly without waiting for tax collections. One proposal by Simmons is to use American Rescue Plan Act funds but there are worries about potential litigation if federal funds were used.

Evanston Corporation Counsel Nicholas Cummings said the safest form of funding that would avoid potential legal issues would be home rule taxes such as the city’s sales tax, medical cannabis tax and cigarette tax.

The City Council postponed considering a proposal to move an additional $2 million from the city’s general fund to the reparation fund until the Dec. 12 meetings.

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“Today, it’s more about our own commitment,” Council member Bobby Burns said. “We’re not on a good curve right now for supporting this reparations program, especially for our ancestors.”

He said the $2 million and the real estate transfer tax funds would allow the committee to fully fund those in the Ancestors category of reparations. This group includes African American or Black individuals who were at least 18 years old at the time and were Evanston residents between 1919 and 1969.

“We need to put those ancestors ahead. There are folks who are passing away, these folks are 70-plus years old,” Reid said. “We want to make sure they are getting the resources they are long overdue while they are still here.”

“There’s 400 Descendants behind them that also applied for this program. That’s $10 million,” Burns said. “This work is not done yet. That’s only the first round.”

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