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Legal snafu delays Evmark tax hearing

Efforts to double the funding for Evanston's downtown marketing organization, EvMark, suffered a setback Monday when aldermen postponed a public hearing on the plan.

The hearing was delayed because of what city attorney Herb Hill described as technical issues with defining the exact boundaries of the district that would be taxed to fund EvMark.

The funding increase has drawn opposition from owners of many downtown condominium units who would for the first time be taxed to support EvMark's programs.

Some aldermen indicated they may want to amend the boundaries of the district to exclude at least some of those condo units.

In response to a question from Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, Mr. Hill said that at this point in the process the council can reduce, but not expand, the size of the district.

And responding to Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4th Ward, the attorney added that while the district must remain "contiguous," the council could created cutouts or donut holes within it.

"I'm thinking of vertical rather than horizontal swiss cheese," Ald. Bernstein added, "Can we eliminate condos over commercial property?"

"Yes," Mr. Hill replied.

Under state law, after the public hearing is held, the voters and property owners in the district can block the new district from going into effect by submitting petitions containing a signatures from a majority of the members of each group.

City officials say there are 1,518 voters and 1,212 property owners in the district. Persons who are both voters and property owners are entitled to sign two petitions — once as a member of each group.

Mr. Hill said the rules for extending the special service area are specified by state statute and the city council lacks the power to change them. But he said the city will go beyond the statute's requirement to provide additional notice to residents and property owners about the proposal.

The state doesn't specify the format for the petitions, but at the suggestion of Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd Ward, the aldermen directed city staff to provide examples of an approporiate petition form on the city web site and make them available in the city clerk's office.

A revised ordinance for the tax district is now expected to be submitted to the council at its next meeting, Feb. 12, with the hearing to be held at the council's Feb. 26 meeting.

Although the formal hearing was canceled, the aldermen still heard from many people who would have to contribute to the $475,000 fund for EvMark.

Most, but not all, of the condo owners who spoke opposed the measure, while owners of businesses and commercial properties all appeared to favor it.

In addition to providing marketing support to downtown businesses, EvMark funds programs that provide extra plantings, litter pickup and sidewalk power-washing in the downtown area.

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Downtown tax plan advances – Nov. 29, 2006

EvMark: Expand downtown tax district – Nov. 1, 2006

Downtown tax district up for renewal – Oct. 3, 2006

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