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City to squeeze school over taxes

Evanston aldermen postponed action Monday on rezoning a Central Street office building for dorm use to give the city manager time to try to talk National Louis University into paying taxes on the property.

The site at 1620 Central is planned as the new location for the school’s PACE training program for young adults with multiple learning disabilities.

School officials have said they can’t afford to make a payment in lieu of taxes on the property, especially after agreeing to many expensive changes to the site to address privacy and other concerns raised by neighbors.

But neighbor Ken Bailey of 1602 Central St. said he believes the Professional Assistant Center for Education raises at least $1.5 million in annual revenue from tuition charges and should be able to make some financial contribution to the city.

Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, whose 7th Ward includes both the new and old program locations, said that while she’d like the city to see tax revenue form the site she felt the deal amounted to a wash, since the sale of the old site had put that property back on the tax roles.

"It comes out even in my book," Tisdahl said, adding that the majority of PACE graduates hold down jobs and live independently in Evanston, making them "a tremendous help to taxpayers."

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said she doesn’t believe the property deserves to be off the tax roles, even though its a wonderful program.

She cited a new report from the city’s pension consultants adding an additional $5 million to the estimated $140 million in unfunded public safety pension liability the city faces, despite having made $12 million in pension payments this year.

Adding any more tax exempt property is just "another nail in the coffin of the taxpayers of Evanston," Rainey said.

"This is not a poverty program," she said, "This is a program that could afford to contribute."

Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, proposed postponing the vote, although he said he supports the special use request by PACE.

He said that in addition to talking to school officials about the current situation, the city needs to develop a policy for consistently addressing rezoning requests by non-profits.

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