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Evanston City Council

Here's a recap of our live coverage of Tuesday evening's Evanston City Council meeting.

Fire Chief Greg Klaiber announces an Explorer program for young people between 14 and 20 years of age who are interested in fire department careers.

Public Comment

Junad Rizki says he believes the aldermen already know that they're planning a property tax increase for next year.

Mike Vasilko says he believes the City Council should avoid any property tax increase next year.

Jim Young urges that fire and police pension funding be maintained at least at this year's level. Says both police and fire funds are substantially underfunded. Contributing less money, he says, would be irresponsible. Says assuption of 7 percent return on investment is unrealistically optimistic.

Jason Bresler, owner of Revolution Spin, says business has over 2,000 clients, 1,100 of them Evanston residents. Says business creates additional traffic for Main Street shopping district. Says adjacent business owner, who complained to City Council last week, has only spoken to her once about noise. Claims the complaining business owner has destroyed some of his property and threatened one of his instructors.

Says a residential neighbor's complaints about noise to police were determined to be unfounded.

Agenda Packet

The agenda and information packet for tonight's meeting can be found here.

Summer Youth Program

Parks Director Doug Gaynor provides a recap of programs for youths this summer.

Says 175,000 people visited the beach this summer — high number because of hot weather. About 450 free beach tokens were distributed not counting 900 others distributed to clients of various non-profit agencies.

Says acquatics camp program had a wait list of over 250 people.

Lengthy reports follow from various rec site supervisors. Lots of numbers, few comparisons with previous years.

Youth Job Center Agreement

Details of program here.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, moves approval. Says she likes the program because it invests in existing Evanston residents who are likely to stay here … and there's a close connection between the training and jobs offered.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, says he's worked with the Youth Job Center over the past several years and is very impressed with their operation.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, says the 60 candidates identified so far is likely to grow. Says funding will limit the reach of the program — which can only handle 15 initially.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, asks whether other candidates can be referred to the program. She's told yes.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, says she was really impressed with similar programs she learned about at National League of Cities meeting earlier this year. Calls it "precisely on target" for what the city needs to do.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, says she's been very impressed with the YJC staff.

Rainey asks how much the program will cost after this fiscal year. Is told don't have numbers for tha.. For the first 15 participants the cost is expected to be $80 to provide services to them for the full 24 months.

Approved unanimously.

Police and Fire Actuarial Report

City manager asks for clarificaiton about how much council wants to spend on the pension programs for next year. Actuarial report said could cut the spending.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, says he wants to keep pension spending a the same level as last year and doesn't want to have a tax increase to fund it — so urges the city manager to find other spending to cut for next year.

Rainey says adding the additional $687K in spending Wilson is proposing would cost taxpayers more (assuming other city expenses aren't cut).

Says it would take the taxes of several hundred property owners to cover that amount.

Says city is already spending about a third of its general fund property tax levy on the pension payments.

Says "enough is enough."

Actuary Arthur Tepfer says recommendation was based on best assumptions. Says state statutory minimum recommendation is "a path of destruction" for many pension plans. Says Illinois has worst funded pension plans in the country and will take any steps it can to maintain that ranking.

Says based on assumptions set last year, and performance over the year since, he believes his projections are realistic and reasonable. But says have to reassess every year.

Says it's the city's job to set a budgeting pattern. He's made a recommendation.

Grover says it's hard to know what we're trying to catch up to when the goal line moves (based on decisions by the state).

Tepfer says everybody gets excited about the funded percentage. But that's based on actuaries assumptions. Says it's a measure at a static point in time — but it isn't the only indicator of where the city is at.

Need to walk down the path of trying to set a path to get to an appropriate level, he says.

Says funding at last year's level is probably OK, but that's not the number he's recommending.

Grover asks how hard it's going to be to find the extra money.

Bobkiewicz says he's hearing from some aldermen that they want to cut positions, others that they want to raise revenue to close that gap. Says it's a policy decision for the council and he'll prepare a budget accordingly.

Burrus says she favors keeping funding at last year's level. Says Evanston's problems date back to the early 1980s when majority of City Council made a decision to listen to actuarial assumptioons and fund inappropriately — to a level that got us into this mess.

Says city is now more than $150 million in the hole as a result of those bad decisions.

Says current City Council has finally agreed to try to fix the problem, but latest actuarial proposal would go back to "kicking the can" down the road.

Tepfer says putting in extra money "is not going to hurt."

Burrus says need to make stronger stand.

Tepfer says has no problem if city wants to spend the whole $150 million gap this year. But can't guarantee that there won't be a shortfall again next year if actual results change.

He says can't let the current environment dictate payments for the future. Things will change.

Says he believes 7 percent is a realistic investment return number, wouldn't argue with a 6.75 percent.

Wilson says he doesn't question the report. But wants to see more action to address the problem. Says the frameworks constructed by the State of Illinois are probably the worst on the planet. The city should aggressively pursue a solution.

Wilson says the city makes a lot of choices through the year that wildly exceed the $700K involved in the discussion tonight. Says its not all that much, but paying it at least it makes a statement that we're not going to take a step back.

Tepfer says there likely will be increases down the road.

Wilson says what he wants to do is like a homeowner paying another $200 a month on their mortgage.

Tendam says he doubts the 7 percent investment return and other assumptions. Says he's less optimistic than the actuary. Says doesn't see that bright an investment return future ahead.

Tepfer says putting in more would be good — but can't say whether you can afford it.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, says city pays a lot of money to staff and consultants for advice — and she's learning to listen to the advice.

Says actuary, city staff and fire and police pension boards are all recommending this action. Says doesn't want to have to make more staff cuts this year. If have to spend more next year, then will face it at that time.

Rainey says there's no way city can find $700K to cut in the budget.

Rainey says the pension funds spend a lot of money on things that have nothing to do with generating a benefit — trips to Hawaii included.

Wynne says she's going to agree with Rainey and Holmes. Says doesn't want to lay anyone off or cut services or raise property taxes.

Blames state legislature for pension problem and says legislature will have to solve it.

Grover says maybe could find a different arbitrary number — not quite $700K, but still somewhat more than the actuary recommends.

Wilson says that last year gave millions to private businesses, more upset about that than spending more on pensions.

Bobkiewicz says will come up with a proposed budget that meets the requirements of the City Council.

Holmes moves that increase it by $200K instead of $700K. Wilson refuses to accept that. Holmes then proposes it as a substitute motion.

Wynne seconds Holmes' substitute motion.

Motion fails on 3-6 vote.

Wilson's motion fails 4-5 Wilson , Tendam, Burrus and Fiske vote for it

Rainey moves accepting actuary report.

That motion fails 4-5 … Wilson, Tendam, Grover, Burrus and Fiske voe against it.

Bobkiewicz says will develop budget that will present alternatives for balancing the budget.

Mayor says doesn't think Springfield is going to solve the problem.

City Council Goals

Bobkiewicz says in many cases city staff has done an outstanding job. Have accomplished more and focused on issues a lot better than most other communities.

Related story.

Says can be in forefront of all communities in the nation on the climate action plan goal.

Says have made tremendous progress on affordable housing issues. Says that perhaps could come off the list. Also efficiency and effectiveness of services is now part of the organizational culture.

Rainey suggests holding focus group on improving 311 service.

Tendam suggests rolling affordable housing into the "at risk individuals" issue.

Bobkiewicz says housing is part of that, but it's more than that — including medical issues for at risk individuals.

Grover says agrees with recommendations to remove the two goals.

Suggests phrasing the new goals differently — more engagement of those population groups — not just offering services (for the seniors and Latinos).

Suggests folding in the evaluation of the township, etc., as part of the consideration of "at risk" individuals and families.

Aldermen agree to take off the "efficiency" goal.

Holmes says with NSP2 and other programs underway means taking it off the list doesn't mean won't be doing a great deal of work in the area. Mayor agrees — can let staff have keep doing their good work.

Reach concensus on dropping that goal.

Wynne recommends adding all three new goals. Says each seems to have own focus and should remain separate.

Bobkiewicz asks about the top priorities …had five … are trimming one … so will have four as the top ones for the coming year. Nobody objects.

Ecoomic Development Goal Setting

Bobkiewicz asks about level of resources council wants to devote to it.

Says Nancy Radzevich is leaving the city staff at the end of the month. Doesn't plan to replace her with a new manager, but hopes to add an "economic development fellow."

Wants more clarity about council's preference regarding loans versus grants and different business sectors.

Burrus says wants research from economic development staff on best practices in the field. Says have been all over the place over the last two years — from grants with no documentation, to some documentation … to loans with various types of documentation. Also should standardize the criteria. If we're going to become a bank, for people who can't get loans anywhere else, then should have requirements like a bank — not just like somebody so give them money.

Grover says she agrees with Burrus that need much better sense of what best practices are in other communities. Says have tried using a lot of tools without a lot of perspective on which ones work best.

Rainey says she believes have done a lot of things that will work out and staff could write a primer on how to do it. Suggests needs another gathering to introduce business community to city programs and hear what they're thinking about it. Says do hear criticism that not everybody knows about the programs.

Wilson says way its been implemented in the past hasn't been fair. Suggests fewer cash grants and more use of loans. Says need to look at impact on other businesses — consider whether giving money to one hurts another down the street. Also need to stick with budget.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, says some areas of city — particularly the west side and Howard Street have greater needs than some other parts of the city. Congratulates staff on its work.

Bobkiewicz suggests deferring some of the decisions on this until 1st quarter of next year. Suggests not making allocations of economic development funds until then. Says hard to have a budget discussion without having some of those discussions first.

Rainey says doesn't want to put anything on hold in the tax increment financing districts. Says did a lot of thinking about them before they were established.

Bobkiewicz says he thinks that's a reasonable approach.

Holmes says grants may be very important in certain segments of the community, but agrees should look more at loans. Shouldn't eliminate grants. Mayor says she agrees.

Rainey defends facade improvement grant program.

Public meeting ends. at 10:29 p.m. Council goes into executive sesson.

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