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Recap: City Council

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Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council meeting.

The aldermen are scheduled to discuss the future of the Harley Clarke mansion and plans for how to balance next year’s city budget.

The meeting is scheduled to start around 6 p.m.

A packet with information on the agenda items is available online.

Meeting called to order at 6:10 p.m.

Public Comment

Roughly 40 people signed up to speak.

Rodney Greene, former city clerk, opposes demolition of Harley Clarke mansion.

Carlis Sutton, 5th Ward, resident, opposes demolition of Harley Clarke

Rudy Main, youth basketball coach, opposes cuts to youth programs.

Other sports coaches join in that view. … say program keeps kids involved in school.

Effa Therman, 9th Ward, says as parent of youth in youth sports programs, believes those programs are really needed by the children.

Joe Matthews, lives across from Harley Clarke, says only sustainable uses require privatization. Says Lakehouse group has failed to reach funding goals — seem to be heading to another quagmire. Says it could be turned into an amazing park if the building is demolished. “We have finite resources and can’t afford it all,” he says.

Another neighbor of the mansion speaks in favor of demolition and restoration of the dunes.

A circuilt court judge says the youth programs help kids make better choices … and have them not end up in court.

Tom Hodgman, Evanston Lakehouse and Gardens, says the group has 2,100 petition signatures opposing demolition of the mansion.

Says group is willing to pay $15K, the annual maintenance cost, if city agrees to give the group a year to raise $1 million for the restoration project.

More speakers comment in favor of saving — or demolishing — the mansion.

Sara Shastock, fundraiser for ELHG, says group has raised $160K in pledges so far and has $26K in cash gifts. Says pledge growth is increasing, but need to have lease to draw big donors.

Public comment ends at 7:16 p.m.

Payroll and bills

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, raises question about paying for murals and a postal meter with bond funds.

Says murals need constant upgrading and postal meter.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz says it’s a judgment call. 

Says the one involved was at Emerson/Ridge/Green Bay — says it’s a long-term improvement and one of the largest murals in the city.

Rainey withdraws her objection about the murals.

Payroll and bills approved.

2019 Budget update

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City manager says survey results show that residents wnat to keep the social programs — but question remains how to fund them and provide them efficiently.

Says was never the intention to eliminate any of the services.

Says challenged by need to fund pensions … in environment where there’s resistance to increasing taxes and fees.

Says city also faces major capital project needs that amount to many many millions of dollars.

Ashley King, budget manager, makes presentation on budget.

Says general fund budget faces a $2.9 million deficit for next year.

Also need to build general fund reserves back to two months of expenses level. If do that over three years would need to add $1.6 million a year.

In response to question from the mayor, she says the 10 year average increase on labor costs has been 2.6 percent.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, asks about addition of Target and Binny’s stores and their impact on sales and liquor tax revenue.

Is told that the projections are complicated. City manager says Binny’s probably won’t open until the fall. Will meet with company officials closer to the time they open to get a better idea of likely income.

King says the Council will need to increase city’s debt limit to cover borrowing for the new Crown Center.

Some good news — police and fire pension fund investments did better last year than projected — so funding level has improved to 46 percent for fire and 52 percent for police.

Kate Lewis-Lakin, Senior Management Analyst, presents results of resident survey on budget

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Kimberly Richardson, assistant city manager, says staff plans further study reviewing numerous other city programs.

Pat Efiom, city’s equity coordinator, notes that blacks and Hispanics were underrepresented among the survey respondents.

Says will work to get more participation from those groups.

Rainey asks why about a third of the respondents declined to specify their race.

Efiom says there’s no way to get at who that population is.

City manager says staff is looking at a a software program called A Balancing Act that could be used to gather more community feedback about the budget, once the proposed budget is released in October.

Then staff presents a list of potential tax and fee increases. Related story

Rainey says she’s opposed to a flat real estate transfer tax increase. But suggests increasing the tax on properties valued at over $1.5 million. Staffer says legal couldn’t find any Illinois communities that do it that way. Suspect it would be questionable legally.

Rainey says she’s also opposed to home rule sales tax increase.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she’s OK with eliminating the first hour free at city garages. Wants more info about the hotel tax increase. 

Rainey says she’s opposed to red light cameras. Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, says she’s gotten tickets at Skokie’s red light camera at Oakton and McCormick.

Braithwaite says he agrees with Rainey — no red light cameras.

“Consider it removed,” says Bobkiewicz.

Mayor Steve Hagerty says of the potential sale of Maple Avenue parking garage — that would be only one-time revenue.

Fiske says lakefront lots not used all year … concerned about cost of new meters there.

Says would like to increase the number of boat racks.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says he likes increasing the boat racks, too. Says he hears there are waiting lists now. Doesn’t want to sell any revenue-generating assets — says Chicago has had great non-success doing that.

Wynne says she’s open to increasing the parking deck fees — with automatic escalation factor. Not hot on increasing meter rates. Agrees with Wilson on not liking selling a garage.

Hagerty says given the plan to increase the debt limit it may necessary to take a close look at selling an asset, like the Maple Avenue garage. Says have to be smart and responsible.

King says staff will return to Council July 30 with another budget update. Proposed budget to be released Friday, Oct. 5. Hope to have Council adopt the budget on Nov. 19.

City manager says staff is going through the review to be able to offer quality services and meet the city’s obligations.

Braithwaite moves to remove the youth and young adult program and the summer jobs program from the list of possible cuts.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, seconds that.

Wilson says part of the point of the process was to start conversations in the community about what services the city provides.

Says there’s been a lot of anxiety about it. But it’s brought a lot of information forward about what the programs do.

Fiske says she supports Braithwaite’s motion.

Motion carries unanimously.

Harley Clarke demolition proposal

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Nicole Kustock makes presentation for Lighthouse Dunes project. Says have raised more than $300K in three weeks toward what is now estimated at total $450K project. Says confident can raise the full amount required.

Jeff Coney says there’s a limit to the philanthropic effort potential in the community. Doubts can raise enough to rehab the mansion.

Dick Peach says the city already has an ecology program from the Ecology Center on the lakefront at the fog houses. Says 2,000 to 3,000 residents are already participating in those.

Says this represents an opportunity to create green space.

Rainey moves approval. Braithwaite seconds.

Rainey says the proposals would still go through the Preservation Commission.

Says we’re not going to call in the wrecking ball tomorrow. But will begin a process of considering the demolition.

Fiske says it’s important to find out through negotiation exactly what the scope of work is and the cost. Says need more information.

Says there didn’t used to be a park on the lake north of downtown. There was no access for the public at all north of the Northwestern campus.

Says the city made an extraordinary effort to acquire three large properties as they became available.

Says the Sigma Chi house, the Harley Clarke mansion, was bought by the city for parkland — not for the value of the house.

Says we have an opportunity at this site to really restore the lakefront — and that is historic preservation.

Says the offer from residents to pay for restoring the lakefront to its natural state is wonderful. But wants to have all the information that the city manager will get about the details of the proposal.

Says it has become clear that there’s no way to make restoring the building financially feasible — without having it be so intensive a use that it would damage the lakefront.

Says she’s very concerned about the preservation of the lakefront.

Wilson says Fiske is right. A lot of time an energy has gone into this.

Says there’s a very long list of misunderstandings in the community.

Says the city manager does what the aldermen ask him to do. Accusing him of taking control over this narrative is unfair. We’re responsible. He (and the staff) are working for us.

Says the timeline submitted with the ELHG lease was not what was in the RFP. RFP sayd $4.8 million invested by 2020. The lease said $500K instead.

But he thinks an up or down vote on a demolition process seems premature.

Says committee chaired by Revelle came up with proposal for the property.

Fleming says the city doesn’t have a use for the building. Lot of people have ideas, but somebody has to pay for them.

Says she’s very concerned about not leaving the taxpayers on the hook.

She’s not super excited about more green space, but she’s excited about being financially responsible

Says don’t think a need has been shown for the building,

Says can’t make a decision about what to do without getting more information.

Favors moving forward with about demolition research now.

Wynne says she’s been on the council the entire time this has been discussed. It’s a difficult problem.

Says there were many misunderstandings along the way. Thinks there’s still a possibility of reaching an agreement with the lakehouse group.

Once the house is gone, it’s gone. Says should give the Lakehouse and Gardens group one year to raise $1 million. If not, then will consider the dunes group option again.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, says the mansion was incidental to the original purchase, but many Evanstonians have fell in love with it since.

Says historic buildings are important to the fabric of a community like Evanston.

Says it’s premature to consider demolition.

Says should give ELHG a year to demonstrate fundraising capacity. Come back in a year with $1 million in pledges, she says.

Fiske says emails, petitions, rallies have been very difficult — the name-calling, the attacks have been painful.

Says she’s disturbed by the amount of anger and misrepresentation — when “get emails saying I’m taking bribes, or I’m corrupt.”

“I don’t see a lot of people wanting to run for public office when they see the vitriol addressed to the aldermen,” Fiske adds.

Fiske says she’s not confident the city could do an agreement with the Lakehouse group, given the distrust they’ve engendered.

Says no house is worth this.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, says he agrees with Fiske that the tone of this debate has been bad.

Says should have an advisory referendum in November.

Says covering eyes and ears about the possibility of demolition is not right.

Resolution is approved 6-3. Wynne, Wilson and Revelle vote no.

(Note that the referendum idea is not part of the resolution. It may come up at a future meeting.)

Lawsuit settlement resolution

Approved unanimously

Appointments

Approved unanimously.

Call of the wards

9th Ward meeting coming up.

2nd and 5th Ward meeting G300 CC 7p Thursday

Meeting adjourned at 9:49 p.m.

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