Aldermen Monday decided to try to charm Evanston tax-exempt groups into seeing mutual benefit in their helping do work now paid for by the city.

The aldermen, at a Rules Committee meeting, directed Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell to arrange a series of meetings over the next several months with the non-profit groups.

Some aldermen said talk that the city might try to force payments in lieu of taxes from the non-profits has raised concerns, especially among local churches.

“I’ve talked to some preachers who are scared to death we’re going to get into their pockets, and they can’t even afford to put a roof on their churches,” Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, said.

Bernstein said he’d rather have the focus be on how the city can benefit from the skills and expertise of various non-profit groups. “The spirit is out there,” Bernstein said, “We’ve got to catch it now.”

Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said, “I think a case has to be made by the city to each one of the not-for-profit institutions as to why they should contribute. If the answer just is ‘because you live in a lovely place like Evanston,’ that won’t be good enough.”

Noting Northwestern University’s recent agreement to cover part of the cost of replacing the roof on the city-owned salt dome that also stores salt for the university, Moran said, the only way the plan will work is if the city can show that cooperation will be mutually beneficial.

“I don’t think we will get any assistance by going out with our hand out and saying ‘give us money because I’m poor,’” he added.

Aldermen suggested the help might come in the form of performing services — whether taking on consulting projects or providing a space for after-school recreation programs — rather than making cash contributions.

Anything that could reduce city costs would help balance the budget, Russell said.

But while the aldermen plan to use persuasion on existing tax-exempt groups, they indicated they still hope to impose mandatory requirements that new non-profit groups coming into the city that taking property off the tax rolls make cash payments in lieu of taxes as long as they own the property.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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