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City to seek gifts for cops, fire, health

Aldermen voted this week to move toward setting up foundations or similar groups that could solicit private gifts to support public safety and health programs in Evanston.

"We want to provide flexibility," said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz at Monday's Rules Committee meeting. Contributions to the city itself are tax deductible, he said, "but its hard to explain that to people. If you say it's a 501(c)3 [a tax exempt charity], that they understand."

He said people who might not be eager to donate to "the city" would be interested in supporting individual departments.

Police Chief Richard Eddington said the public safety group would likely focus on what he called "manageable-size equipment," items priced at $20,000 or less that would be highly visible to the public to create positive reinforcement so donors could say, 'We did that.'"

He said the department had already received some such donations recently, including a sizable number of mountain bikes for officers donated by Northwestern University and a T3 electric scooter provided by the Cherry Family Foundation.

Police Chief Greg Klaiber said his department has a long wish list, including updated thermal imaging devices for fire engines and new patient care computers for ambulances.

The idea of private fundraising for the city "is unconventional," Bobkiewicz said, "but we're in unconventional times."

He said he hoped the fundraising groups could "package contributions in ways that are meaningful to the donors and provide things the city budget can't provide today."

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said that in choosing members for the new groups that their focus will be on fundraising. "We're not looking for medical experts for the health group," she said.

The health group would work to support the establishment of a federally qualified health center in Evanston. The city is seeking a federal grant to fund such a center, but won't learn whether it's won the grant until sometime this summer.

"We need to jump-start this," Bobkiewicz said, "and get a local group established to raise money for a facility in Evanston."

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