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City priority: Find new money

Evanston aldermen agreed on a dozen priority projects for the city staff Monday amid a general focus on generating revenue and growth for the community.

The dozen items were culled from a list of 39 presented by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz with a few additions and modifications by the aldermen.

Faced with declining city revenue as a result of the recession, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said “we need to make money.” Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “I chose mostly things that are revenue generating.” And that was a theme repeated by several other council members.

Economic development had no trouble making it on the list of priorities, although it was not entirely clear what specific changes the aldermen want from current practices — beyond more results.

The aldermen also indicated that some topics may get a dramatically different approach.

For example, they agreed that affordable housing should be on their priority list.


Evanston aldermen agreed on a dozen priority projects for the city staff Monday amid a general focus on generating revenue and growth for the community.

The dozen items were culled from a list of 39 presented by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz with a few additions and modifications by the aldermen.

Faced with declining city revenue as a result of the recession, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said “we need to make money.” Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, said, “I chose mostly things that are revenue generating.” And that was a theme repeated by several other council members.

Economic development had no trouble making it on the list of priorities, although it was not entirely clear what specific changes the aldermen want from current practices — beyond more results.

The aldermen also indicated that some topics may get a dramatically different approach.

For example, they agreed that affordable housing should be on their priority list.

But just a few years ago that meant imposing taxes on market-rate developers in an effort to force production of new affordable housing units.

Monday the mayor spoke of affordable housing in terms of keeping taxes affordable and expanding the city’s tax base so Evanston can remain a diverse community. “Current policies need to be revisited,” she said.

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, said the priority should be “trying to save homeowners who currently own their homes” rather than building new affordable housing. “Maybe last year it was different,” Jean-Baptiste added.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said of affordable housing, “It’s not necessary to provide more city funds, but to develop more effective policies.”

And Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, said the city should focus on providing workforce housing for current residents.

Several recent affordable housing projects developed by non-profit groups have been caught in the housing market crunch, with units sitting vacant and requiring ever-deeper city subsidies. And to find any buyers at all, the agencies developing the projects have often ended up selling units to people from outside of Evanston.

And, when it came to lakefront development some aldermen focused, as Jean-Baptiste put it, on finding “new revenue-generating uses.”

Grover said, “we need better ways to make use of and profit from the lakefront.”

That may suggest a future conflict with activists in the Southeast Evanston Association, who by coincidence were holding their annual meeting at the library at the same hour. They’ve generally opposed any expansion of commercial or revenue-generating uses along the shore and heavily influenced the city’s recently adopted lakefront master plan.

The aldermen agreed that redeveloping the Robert Crown Center should be a top priority, suggesting that since the ice rink program there generates revenue from the city, letting it fall into disrepair is causing the city to miss an opportunity to increase its revenue stream.

And they agreed to take a broader look at capital improvement program planning to come up with a better way of prioritizing facilities projects — and funding deferred maintenance on city buildings including the Civic Center.

The aldermen added two topics that hadn’t been on the city manager’s list — a focus on community safety, suggested by Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, and finding ways to fund public safety pensions, suggested by Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

Rounding out the list of a dozen priorities were:

  • Budget planning
  • The climate action plan
  • Efficiency and effectiveness of services
  • Federal/state/regional government affairs
  • Cooperation with Northwestern University

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