After hours of discussion, Evanston aldermen Monday night decided a proposed $10.5 million renovation of the downtown library building will have to be postponed while development of a new $48.5 million Crown recreation center moves ahead.

Aldermen said it would place too much burden on taxpayers, and risk the city’s bond rating, to attempt both projects at the same time.

The Crown project has the advantage of private fundraising support, now estimated at $11.1 million, that will cover a portion of the project’s cost, while the library proposal is relying more heavily on taxpayer funding.

And some of the private Crown funding is conditioned on now getting the building completed quickly — after decades of delay in deciding what to do about the decaying ice rink facility.

Several aldermen were still skittish about a city staff proposal that would see the average homeowner paying as much as $3,655 in additional taxes for Crown over the next quarter century.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said aldermen could always cut other spending or develop other revenue sources to compensate. Debt payments for Crown would amount to about $1.5 million a year, he said, and the city managed to trim $6 million from its current fiscal year budget.

But doing that, he added, would require difficult choices, which is why he plans to start the council’s 2019 budget debate next month — rather than waiting till late summer or early fall as has been the traditional practice.

The City Council is also scheduled to vote next week on hiring a construction manager for the Crown project, City staff sees making that commitment as key to keeping the project on schedule.

While the appointed library board controls its own budget under state law, the City Council has authority to cut any spending over a referendum-approved library tax rate cap, and the library is already spending above that level.

Read more about the funding debate from our meeting recap or watch our streaming video coverage of Monday night’s City Council session.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.