Three Evanston aldermen brainstormed Wednesday night about how they might hit up non-profit organizations in town to help bail the city out of its financial problems.

The aldermen on the Policy Subcomittee on Property Tax Exempt Contributions discussed everything from requiring payments in lieu of taxes for planned development and special use zoning requests to funding fire protection from a service fee rather than the property tax.

“We need an up-front policy on payment in lieu of taxes,” Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “and not wait to bring it up until the deal is almost closed.”

“We haven’t even defined public benefits (from planned developments) for profit-making developers,” Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, added.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, suggested putting together a packet of information “clearly laying out what the difficulties are” and why non-profit organizations should contribute.

“We should make a request that they enter into a long-term agreement with the city,” Jean-Baptiste said.

But Tisdahl responded, “I certainly would support sending them a letter, but I wouldn’t put a lot of staff time into knocking on doors. I think I know what the answer would be.”

Jean-Baptiste suggested that only non-profits that operate at a certain level of “profitability” should be targeted to pitch in, but Rainey said “the time has come where its obvious everybody needs to help.”

On the fire service fee issue, City Finance Director Marty Lyons said that switching to the service fee approach could lower the city’s credit rating, because rating agencies believe service fees are less likely to be paid than property taxes.

But Lyons noted that the State of Illinois has agreed to make a payment to the cities of Champaign and Urbana for fire service to the main University of Illinois campus.

Ald. Rainey said that years ago a referendum showed overwhelming support among the public for forcing Northwestern University to pay more to support the city.

“But we have a lot of new people in town, and I’ve spoken with several that have the attitude that the city is stupid and thinks all of its troubles would be solved by going after Northwestern. That’s the tone of many of our new residents. I think that’s something we have to confront,” she said

“Nobody thinks NU is going to solve all of our problems,” Rainey added, “although,” she said with a smile, “if they gave us $50 million a year that would solve a lot of our problems.”

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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9 Comments

  1. new residents
    Ald. Rainey said that years ago a referendum showed overwhelming support among the public for forcing Northwestern University to pay more to support the city.

    Of course..there will always be overwhelming support to get someone else to pay our bills.

    “But we have a lot of new people in town, and I’ve spoken with several that have the attitude that the city is stupid and thinks all of its troubles would be solved by going after Northwestern. That’s the tone of many of our new residents. I think that’s something we have to confront,” she said

    Oh, yes, it’s those new people and their attitude. (Who is ‘new’? Someone who has lived here less than 40 years?). This ‘attitude’ exists for a reason.

    Anyone who reads the Roundtable or annrainey.com or EvanstonNow.com will know that there are plenty of old-timers who really do think that all of Evanston’s problems are caused by the university and the ‘outsiders’ in the condominiums.

    It was not the ‘new’ residents who created the pension crisis.

    1. Re: Non-Profits, City Money Woes, etc.
      I’m a “new resident”. I’m 32. I moved to E-town 3 years ago. I make mortgage payments on a condo in the 3rd Ward.

      I have a simple question. One I should probably research myself, but here it goes: “Does anyone have background information about other towns with Universities in them that do or don’t pay taxes? What’s the general status-quo for them? If Northwestern doesn’t pay taxes, but other Universities in the same situation elsewhere do, maybe they should…? If it’s the norm not to, maybe they shouldn’t.”

      My initial response on hearing that NU doesn’t pay is this: “Call their bluff. If they say they’ll leave if they have to pay, make them move and invite a University that will pay. Either that, or have them sell off their land and collect property taxes from the new folks who move in. I’m sure either way the city would come out ahead.”

      Now, of course, I’m a newbie. I don’t know the actuals or the ins and outs of the entire situation. I readily admit to needing more information. But from where I stand, I see a rich neighbor who doesn’t pay their taxes while normal folks like I do.

      If a fire happens in an NU building, who puts it out? If the NU police squad is over-taxed in an emergency, who do they call for help? The state? Or Evanston?

      Just a thought.
      – Calin

      PS: “Lay blame with one hand, and work hard for a solution with the other, and see which one comes out with success in the end.”

      1. call their bluff
        Calin wrote:
        My initial response on hearing that NU doesn’t pay is this: “Call their bluff. If they say they’ll leave if they have to pay, make them move and invite a University that will pay. Either that, or have them sell off their land and collect property taxes from the new folks who move in. I’m sure either way the city would come out ahead.”

        Calin – The problem with your scenario is that Northwestern was here first. The University was established before the City of Evanston was. The University’s Charter of 1855, the State of Illinois Constitutions of 1848 and 1870, and other documents have guaranteed that the University would be free from taxation.

        We all knew – or should have known – the rules when we moved here. The university was here first, it was not taxed and will not be taxed.

        So this is the classic NIMBY/Airport problem. Don’t buy a house at 55th and Cicero and then complain about the noise from the jets. Don’t buy a house next to the Red Line and then complain about the noise that the trains make at night. Don’t buy a house on the Gulf Coast and then demand that the government provide cheap hurricane and flood insurance. Don’t buy a house in Minneapolis and then complain about the cold weather.

        Don’t buy a house in Evanston and then complain about Northwestern.

        1. Re: re: Non-profits, City Money Woes, etc.
          Thanks to both of you for your thoughtful replies to my question. I’ll be sure to re-read them, and if I find time, do some research of my own.

          It’s hard to compare a hurricane prone area to one that has a law on the books you have to look up to know about ahead of time. That situation is another topic of discussion, I think.

          So, it’s easy to say “Don’t complain” if you know all the details ahead of time. An argument could be made that I should have done more research before I bought, but that doesn’t solve the key issue at hand, and neither does complaining about it.

          No problems are solved with an “Oh well, tough luck I guess, attitude either.” They’re solved with things like, “Okay, now I understand that NU was here first. But laws can, and do, change. They’re written by people, after all. Sounds like they were written quite a while ago too. If it’s such a large problem that it has to change, it will. One way — or another.”

          I’d love to hear a debate by folks fully trained and read on the topic. And the reasons behind them all.

          I just can’t get the scenario out of my head, you know?

          Here’s the scenario, hypothetical, mind you, and possibly full of flaws. Anyway:

          If they don’t want to pay for services, don’t render them. Pretty simple if you ask me. Everyone should get what they pay for, after all.

          I find it very hard to believe that if the city is willing to play hard ball with NU that they couldn’t make life so tough for NU that NU would want to come to some sort of agreement. I’m sure a creative legal team could come up with so many fees for “city-owned services provided to NU” it would make a head spin, if they wanted to.

          Things like parking, sewer, water, fire, ambulance, police, parks, lake services, zoning, future zoning, cables, electric, non-NU owned property services, events, and a wide variety of other things probably go through the city before they get to NU.

          I see it now, a little sign in each NU stall that says, “Insert credit card to flush toilet.”

          Back to reality:

          I’d be very interested to see the long, detailed list of services the city provides that NU does not pay for, but that the city could charge a fee for.

          But I guess that’s what Rainey was asking for?

          And why not? She’s on City Council, after all. It’s her job to look in the couch for every quarter, and to squeeze the heck out of every penny.

          – C

        2. unoriginal
          Mr. Who Knows-
          Can you please come up with arguments other than your NIMBY complaint that consistently populates your comments?

          Calin was asking a simple, genuine question from a new resident.

          Just because we know about Northwesterns history before we moved to Evanston does not mean that we don’t have a vision of changing the status quo.

      2. NU and Fair Share
        Calin,

        Welcome to the Peoples Republic of Evanston. The NU/Evanston issue goes back some time and remains contentious. Some years back a group of citizens formed Fair Share and had an advisory referendum put on the ballot asking if NU should pay their “fair share”. Over 80% of those voting said yes.

        NU by state charter is tax exempt, as are most other universities throughout the country. The fact is that over 40% of Evanston land is tax exempt, NU, two major hospitals, >90 churches, many non-profits, schools, streets, etc. NU probably occupies 5% of Evanston land area. City services are provided and none of these pay property or sales taxes. Many of these do provide jobs, probably low paying service jobs (it would be interesting to know how many of profs and staff live in Evanston) Bienen and others live in NU owned houses and are tax exempt.

        Evanston in an attempt to get some revenue has placed surcharges and fees on things such as water bills, which are not taxes per se, but which we pay as well. I assume fees are assessed for ambulance and emergency services. There are also fees for building permits, etc.

        Many major universities, Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton also do not pay taxes, but many of them do offer some consideration to their host communities. Harvard purchased land (50 acres?)in Cambridge and an adjoining suburb to expand. In lieu of taxes they have agreed to pay the communities money in lieu of taxes for the next 25 years to help bridge the transition. Many offer services to their host communities using their intellectual capital. The U of C operates some charter schools in Chicago. Their graduate school has students perform studies and projects.

        NU is an excellent school, my wife and I are alumni, and appreciate our education. Our regret is that NU seems rather insensitive to the needs and problems of its host community. It is not just financial revenue that is lacking, but the intellectual capital could be put to good use to assist the city facing so many problems. Kellogg, McCormick, the Traffic Institute, etc. could assist us in many ways. It would be a great experience for the students. Not that NU does nothing, many of the students help — sometimes in political contests, which is another story.

        The impression among citizens is that NU is aloof and feels that Evanston owes its very existence to NU, ignoring the fact that Wilmette, Winnetka and other nearby suburbs survive without a major university. NU often refers to its purchases within Evanston, but neglects to say that those are tax exempt and thus bring no revenue. Student purchases do bring some sales tax revenue, but these are minor sources of revenue and no way compensate for a student body that is perhaps 10 to 15 per cent of the population.

  2. Who will get hit? Who will slide?
    Will these “involuntary donations” be exacted evenly across the board, or will they exempt religious organizations, consulates, and of course, big bad Northwestern?

  3. Making nice progress
    bill — i am increasingly impressed with the layout of the site. it is so much easier to navigate and to find information. it is a much friendlier resource. it also seems to be reporting some items in a much more timely manner. i appreciate the work you are putting into this.

    now if you can only find some better news to report about the city budget and finances, things would be golden.

    harvey saver

  4. Northwestern the Town Scapegoat
    Evanston property tax rates are well above neighboring Chicago’s, Wilmette’s and Skokie’s. Instead of looking closer at spending (Evanston spends significantly more per capita than neighboring communities and has a lot more top level employees), politicians prefer to scapegoat Northwestern. Why does Evanston have such a bad relationship with its hometown college? Why do other cities throughout the state treat their colleges as economic magnets, increasing property values, contributing sales tax revenue, and pumping money into local business? Towns throughout the state even lobby Springfield to expand their hometown universities (see Champaign, DeKalb). Evanston, however, prefers the scapegoat game. Instead of looking at the benefits, it looks the costs. And politicians would rather treat NU as the town scapegoat instead of correcting their irresponsible management.

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