Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council meeting, which featured extensive discussions of the city budget and aldermanic compensation.

The meeting was originally scheduled for 5:30 p.m., but now is expected to begin at 7 p.m. because the Planning and Development Committee meeting ran long.

But the committee voted unanimously to reject the proposed 17-story Merion Legacy project on Chicago Avenue. That means the high-rise project is dead and will not be up for discussion at the City Council meeting.

Meeting called to order at 7:05 p.m.

Public hearing on 2021 proposed budget

Jamie Robin objects to property tax increase of 5.9% when social security benefit increase for next year is only 1.3%.

Suggests city should not try to rebuild its general fund reserve.

Says city should be able to cut 5% from its budget without too much difficulty.

Sean Peck-Collier says there’ve been no complaints about police service levels, despite reduction in staffing. Says why do we have such a “bloated” police force?

Mike Vasilko says property taxes should be cut, not raised.

End of public hearing

Mayor’s announcements

Mayor Steve Hagerty says Evanston is continuing to do relatively well, but positivity rate is going up. Evanston now at 2.7% positive rate. New mitigation rules imposed by governor today. Mayor says that will mean more pain for Evanston’s restaurants. Urges ordering takeout instead.

Public Comment
Public comment ends at 8:29 p.m.

SP1 – 2021 Proposed budget discussion

City Manager Erika Storlie introduces a budget presentation.

Kate Lewis-Lakin of city staff discusses options for rebuilding the city’s general fund balance to the target of roughly $16.67 million.

Ike Ogbo, health director, says will continue to do contact tracing and will expand COVID-19 testing next year. Also plan to continue food assistance and housing availability for those affected by the disease. Also preparing for mass vaccination for COVID and developing an emergency response alternative and improving social services and programs.

Ogbo says the mitigation order from the governor today does apply to Evanston.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, suggests not trying to rebuild the fund balance or beef up pension contributions to reduce the property tax increase.

Also suggests reducing funding for police training. And suggests dropping a payment to employees who choose not to take the city’s health insurance coverage.

Storlie says the insurance incentive — of $150 a month — incentivizes people to use other insurance — eliminating it could cost the city a lot more money.

Says if going to cut the fund balance contribution, need to commit to a plan to rebuild it in the future.

Alderman Tom Suffredin, 6th Ward, asks what would the cost be if the city’s credit rating was downgraded a notch.

Hitesh Desai says could cost 10 to 20 basis points — which depending on the size of the bond issue could amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars extra in interest payments.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, says she thinks staff has been cut as much as can. Doesn’t see path forward to get back to normal.

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, says doesn’t want to risk messing with the bond rating.

Says the city also nickels and dimes people with fees that are much more regressive than the property tax.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, suggests reducing the increase in the fund balance from $1M to $500K as a way to reduce the property tax increase.
Suggests also making trims to capital projects.

Storlie says capital budget has already been reduced, but could take another look at it, and prepare a budget memo.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, worries about loss of bond rating and hard to get it back, as Desai said, finds that the most worrisome issue.

Storlie says city has been continually behind on capital spending for years. And keeps falling further behind — which is why staff is trying to develop proposals for reducing the number of city buildings.

Says it will take many years to solve the problems the pandemic has caused. But need a plan to move toward being more fiscally secure.

Consent agenda

Off consent
P3 … failed in committee (planned development for 1621-1631 Chicago Ave.
P1 … removed at request of Wilson (plat of resubdivision for 1605-1631 Chicago Ave.)
R7 … removed at request of Fiske (aldermanic compensation)
R4 … removed at request of Rue Simmons (reparations committee)

Consent agenda, as amended, is approved.

P1 – Plat of resubdivision for 1605-1631 Chicago Ave.
Wilson says wants to hold this resolution until next meeting so it can be acted on at same time as P2, an ordinance that was introduced tonight and is scheduled for adoption at the next meeting.
Vote to table is approved.

R4 – Codifying the Reparations Committee
Rue Simmons recommends amendment so that the aldermen to be on the committee should be those wards with largest black populations — 2nd, 5th and 8th wards.
Also requests clarifying the qualifications for citizen members of the committee.
First request is made as a motion, second to be worked out by Reparations Subcommittee in the future.
Amendment approved.
Ordinance is approved for introduction 9-0.

R7 – Aldermanic compensation

Three options:

  1. $15,990 cash with city to cover health insurance. If all aldermen opted for insurance, total cost to city would be $339,805.80. (This is the current system. $280,000 is the actual current cost of that, given that not all aldermen take the city’s insurance.)
  2. $37,800 cash with aldermen to cover the full cost of their insurance. Total cost would be $340,200. (This is the option proposed by Alderman Rainey.)
  3. $15,990 to be combined with a health insurance allowance. Three options provided — allowances of $660/month or $1,400/month or $1,800/month that could be used toward health insurance. Total costs to city would be $215,190 or $295,110 or $338,300 on the three different options. (These are options developed by city staff.)

Wilson moves to drop the option Rainey proposed.

Wynne says wants to stay with the first version — the existing system — or the highest flavor of the third option.

Rue Simmons says she agrees with Rainey’s suggestion.

Wilson moves approving option 3 with the $1,800/month allowance level.

Storlie says the extra funding for the alternate option could lead to somebody not choosing to be insured.

After much discussion, Wilson’s motion fails 4-5. Rainey, Braithwaite, Wilson and Rue Simmons voted yes.

Wynne moves the “status quo” option. That passes 5-4 for introduction. (Same split.)

Call of the wards

Rainey — Calls the compensation vote so wrong and so unfair.

Fiske — 1st & 4th Ward meeting on budget Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Suffredin — 2nd, 5th, 6th ward joint meeting Nov. 11.

Revelle — 7th & 8th Ward meeting Thursday at 7 p.m. on budget.

Meeting adjourned at 10:23 p.m.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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