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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