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Recap: City Council

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Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this morning’s Evanston City Council hearing on the 2020 city budget.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

A packet with information on what’s up for discussion is available online.

Still waiting at 9:08 a.m. for a quorum of aldermen to arrive so the meeting can be called to order.

Meeting called to order at 9:12 p.m.

Public hearing on budget

Public Comment

Mike Vasilko says city should reject the proposed property tax increase and eliminate all vacant staff positions.

John Cooper, owner of storage facility at 2020 Greenwood, opposes proposed self storage tax. Says Skokie and Wilmette  don’t have that tax. Says most users are moderate income and often are going through stressful life events.

End of public comment

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, raises question regarding bonds for Chiaravalle School. Mayor says the proposal, on Monday’s Council agenda would NOT obligate the city to make payment on the bonds.

Public hearing on budget ends at 9:33 a.m.

Mayor Steve Hagerty says GovHR as search firm for city manager search is on Council agenda for Monday night.

City Clerk suggests value added tax for legal and consulting invoices, occupational privilege tax and other possible new taxes … all designed to be “progressive” by taxing rich people more.

Public Comment

Mike Vasilko complains that answer to every question seems to be to raise taxes. Doubts city needs 800 employees.

Second round of public comment ends at 9:47 pm..

Capital budget 2020 presentation from Lara Biggs, city engineer.

Says total capital spending was $78 mllion this year. Will drop to 65 million in 2020, with the wrap up of the Robert Crown Center project.

Road work

Says Central Street bridge project may not actually start construction work until 2021.

Says Ridge Avenue signal project has received grant funding, construction is estimated to take place in 2022 and 2023.

Parks projects … include Beck Park improvements, a potential dog park and Harbert Park. Construction on Harbert is expected to start next year.

Facilities … plan to hire consultant to do a update to ADA improvements study. 

Space planning for civic center … may be less than $20K in consulting fees, but other projects at Civic Center to keep the boiler running and other activities is likely to cost $500K next year. (Boiler work itself likely to be $100K.)

Ecology Center project … $485K for water service, restroom and chimney improvements/

Service Center … 1980 vintage building with a lot of issues … $1.375M … yard resurfacing, tuckpointing and HVAC upgrades.

Mayor Steve Hagerty asks whether there’s a possible better location for a service center.

Interim City Manager Erika Storlie says hasn’t evaluated that — doubts the land would be highly valuable for anything else.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says the expense for repairs will extend the life of the building — moving wouldn’t be “very right-headed,” she says.

Water projects … studying possible replacement of the smallest of the city’s three water intakes from the lake.

Says need to do repairs to the heating cable in the largest of the water intakes … at a cost of $1 million.

Biggs says have made tremendous progress in making facilities safe over the past few years.

Says life of a park is about 25 years, and with current funding city is only o a 75 year replacement cycle.

Presentation expected to be online shortly. (Here’s the link.)

Mayor says city has historically borrowed about $10M a year to fund capital projects.

Utility projects are funded from utility revenues.

Hitesh Desai says city has about $190M in bond debt. (Roughly another $200 million in pension debt.)

Says had been running $150M to $165M in years before the Crown Center.

Budget balancing workshet

(see page 4 of this packet)

Self-storage unit tax … Suffredin says Skokie has one. Says aren’t any concerns regarding constitutionality of it.

Suffredin asks about amusement tax that applies to movie theaters … versus what Skokie chairges.

Storlie says doesn’t know Skokie amusement tax rate but will find out.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says big box stores are huge employers of moderate income workers, says the clerk’s proposed extra tax on big-box stories would actually be regressive.

Rainey says can’t justify why tax movies and don’t tax health club memberships.

Storlie says Chicago imposes taxes on classes at health clubs, but not on memberships.

Says the State of Illinois bars taxes on many services. Will provide budget memo on the details.

(Now 10:45 p.m. and a couple of aldermen have left to attend a funeral … so down to the bare minimum of five required for a quorum.)

Rainey asks about parking rate increase. Says she’s OK with increasing $2 rate but opposes charging for parking on Sunday.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says downtown can get one hour free in the parking garages downtown — but don’t have garage option in other shopping districts.

Storlie says $260K revenue from Sundays is the estimate from staff.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, asks about imposing a vacant property tax. Suggests it could encourage people to not keep rents so high and get the properties occupied. Says might consider doing something similar for residential vacant properties.

Fleming suggests Evanston Cradle to Career should have to apply for funds through the Mental Health Board as other non-profits do.

Fleming suggests eliminating car allowances.

Wynne says should look at what other communities do. Says number of people who have the car allowances are on call 24 hours a day and are essential to the operation of the city. Says should look at what other communities do.

Community Development Director Johanna Leonard speaks about vacant property tax. Says in some major cities there’s been an influx of foreign money that is keeping residential properties vacant. Says sometimes commercial landlords have kept property vacant hoping for a top-tier national chain as tenant.

Says there are questions about what problems you want to solve and what trigger defines vacancy. (Says issue arises about people who have double lots and have only built on one.)

Ike Ogbo, interim health director, says properties unoccupied or unsecured are considered vacant, or if has property standards violations outstanding for more than 180 days.

Mayor asks about general fund fund balance. Hitesh Desai says policy calls for two months reserve — or 16.67% of annual budget. Now at about 12% and plan to increase balance back to the 16.67% level over the next two years.

City clerk says his office would like to provide vital records services (now are available at Skokie courthouse).

Meeting adjourned at 11:18 am.

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