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Recap: City Council

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Here’s a recap of our live coverage of this evening’s Evanston City Council meeting, which was held virtually on the Zoom conferencing system.

A packet with information on tonight’s agenda items is available online.

The meeting was called to order shortly after 5 p.m. All aldermen were present for the start of the meeting, except Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward.

Mayor’s announcements

Mayor Steve Hagerty says there’s good compliance with the stay-at-home order in Evanston and it is slowing the spread of COVID-19 here.

Notes new rule requiring masks or other face covering when in public spaces with others.

The mayor says that the days for the number of cases in Evanston to double now stands at 17.2 days, compared to 12.9 days in Illinois and 20.7 days across the U.S.

He says hard work everyone is doing is slowing the spread and that’s critically important.

Hagerty says local hospitals have the capacity to handle the number of COVID-19 cases so far. Says there are more than 100 cases at Glenbrook Hospital, around 10 at Evanston Hospital and about 60 at St. Francis Hospital. (These include many people from other communities in addition to Evanston.)

He says about 20% of hospital beds in the area are currently not in use.

Also provided data on COVID-19 cases at long-term-care facilities in Evanston, as shown in this chart:

He also presents data on the breakdown of cases by ZIP Code that can be found on the IDPH website.

City manager’s announcements

Interim City Manager Erika Storlie says the four Harley Clarke proposers are seeking a delay of their presentations by 60 or 90 days. Could be in August now, but exact date not determined

Parks and Recreation Director Lawrence Hemingway discusses summer camp plans. Says 83% of parks agencies across the country are in a waiting mode because of COVID-19.

Says considering four options for summer camp programs this year:

  1. Could run camps the way they always have been.
  2. Or delay the start.
  3. Or operate with some social distancing guidelines. Says have looked at existing registrations for camps — potentially cutting registrations by half — and checking building capacities. Might have to only take the first “x” number of people who registered. Or could refund everybody and tell them to re-register.
  4. Or offer some camps virtually. Trying to sort out which ones can be done that way now. Arts and theater camps are prospects for that approach.

Says have not yet heard from District 65 whether its buildings will be available for city camp use this summer.

Says perhaps may not return senior programs at the Levy Center until the fall, and use the Levy Center for youth camps this summer.

Beaches — says plans to delay opening. June 20 is potential opening date if stay-at-home order is lifted at the end of May.

Wants to try to use digital beach tokens to reduce hand-to-hand exchange at the beaches.

Will limit the number of participants on the beach, in line with IDPH guidelines.

Fleetwood’s June theater production has been rescheduled for September.

Special events in the city have been canceled through June 15.

Sarah Flax, grants administrator, says the city will receive $1.08 million in additional federal CDBG funds and an extra $546K in ESG federal funds — that can be used for COVID-19 related programs. Not all details on spending rules available yet from HUD.

Alderman Cicely Fleming, 9th Ward, suggests trying to use the funds for emergency shelter programs and programs that could help undocumented residents.

Storlie says have had several retirements of long-serving city staff. Says will recognize them at a future council meeting when “we all can meet together in person again.”

City Clerk Devon Reid presents post-election snapshot report. Says there are 50,090 registered voters in Evanston, down by 400 from the 2018 registration level.

In early voting, 8,638 ballots were cast this time, compared to 6,119 four years ago.

Public Comment

20 people signed up. Mayor says each person will have 2:15 for their comments. Starts at 6:10 p.m.

Monique Jones, CEO of Evanston Community Foundation, speaks in favor of renewed funding for Evanston Cradle to Career. Says its moving out of a startup phase to a bigger live and rebuilding community is part of that bigger life.

Pat Fowler wants rate cap on third-party delivery service charges to restaurants.

Sarah Chatfield, volunteer with Red Door Shelter, supports ordinance to restrict sales of rabbits and other pets.

Varous other speakers. Public comment ends at 6:54 p.m.

SP1 – 2404 Ridge appeal of Preservation Commission denial

Braithwaite moves. Fails for lack of a second.

SP2 – Shoreline condition assessment update discussion

Wilson moves. Rainey seconds … for discussion

Lara Biggs, city engineer, does presentation.

Image shows possible use of large sandbags to temporarily beef up the revetments.

Biggs says the biggest problems are are at the north end of Greenwood Beach, the south end of Elliot Park, the Dempster launch facility, the north end of Garden Park and the revetment along Sheridan Road across from the cemetery.

Says immediate repairs at four sites, excluding Sheridan Road, could cost as much as $750,000 this year. Suggests need to have further discussion with IDOT about whose responsibility that area is.

Says existing revetment has served the city for decades — but with high lake levels the wall has eroded. Anticipates the situation will not improve this winter — lake levels not likely to go down. Says next winter, if not repaired, revetment will not be able to protect the shoreline.

Says could end up losing some of the beach houses — which would be very expensive to replace.

Mayor requests update on request for federal disaster declaration. Council defers any other immediate action.

SP3 – Dutch Elm disease injection program discussion

Storlie says want to look at eliminating or reducing the program as a possible saving during financial crisis.

Dave Stoneback, public works director, tries to do a presentation, but runs into technical difficulties.

If you’re keeping track its 7:21 p.m.

Moving on to the next item

SP4 – City-owned real estate assets report from consultant

Paul Zalmezak, community development manager, says report is designed to give a preliminary overview — just a starting point.

Says it’s a great time for this report to start planning for property decisions in the wake of COVID-19.

Staff’s recommendation is that the city hold off on engaging Jones Lang LaSalle, the consultant, for phase two. Zalmezak says staff may be able do some of the work internally.

Susan Sullivan, project manager for JLL, does presentation (which is not available online this evening, but detail from the study is available in the council packet).

Related story.

For the civic center, the study suggests needed repair costs range from $9 million to $16 million, depending on whether the projects would involve straight replacement  of existing equipment or include some upgrades.

Says the building has design issues stemming from its original use as a school that make it inefficient to use as an office building.

Also discusses the police and fire headquarters, and posits the possiblity of creating a new combined city hall and police and fire headquarters building.

Suggests the Maple Avenue garage could be the site for a new consolidated city hall and police and fire headquarters.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward, opposes the idea of possibly selling he Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center. Says Council should consider city prioirties and inclusionary goals — says the city has a commitment to improving conditions in the ward. Accepts that Gibbs-Morrision is underutilized, but says it serves an important purpose as an event space for the community. Says there might be a better use or a better operator, but shouldn’t consider only budget issues in considering its future.

Motion to accept the report and place it on file is approved unanimously.

SP5 – $7.5 million line of credit with Byline Bank.

Moved by Rue Simmons, seconded by Braithwaite.

Storlie says staff is proposing an amendment.

Hitesh Desai, chief financial officer, says given the extension of governor’s stay-at-home order through May, the city may have more expenses and less revenue. Says Byline Bank now has approved a $15 million line of credit for the city. (Unchanged interest rate — LIBOR + 1%.)

Mayor asks is this for deficit spending or to deal with cash flow issues?

Storlies say its for cash flow — to get through day-to-day expenses during the pandemic. Cash balance could drop down to an unreasonably low level. Says the line of credit will give some flexibility, until second property tax payments come in in the fall.

Alderman Cicely Flemin, 9th Ward, asks how much cash will the city need how soon?

Desai says the city is in a relatively comfortable position with $67 million in cash now. Wouldn’t need the loan money in May, but may over the summer. Don’t have to pay interest unless actually draw the money.

Rainey says it’s important to make sure the city is timely in paying its bills — because vendors may be in desperate need of the revenue to pay their bills — so she favors the line of credit. Moves approval of the amendment to $15 million.

Wilson seconds.

Amendment approved unanimously.

Line of credit, as amended is approved unanimously.

SP3 – Dutch Elm disease

Returning to this item … Dave Stoneback does presentation

$800K dutch elm disease program, he says, has been very successful. But it’s a big expense.

Says city still has 2,372 elm trees larger than 10-inch diameter that are part of the injection program.

Says the cost of removing a tree that dies and replacing it is very expensive, compared to the cost of injections.

Says most trees are now treated by a contractor once every third year, with the other trees treated on a three-year cycle by city staff.

Suggests one option would be treating only the “signature” trees — ones with a diameter of 30 inches or more. That would cut costs to about $325K a year.

Says the city lost 3,700 of its 4,000 Ash trees in recent years — and gradually they have been replaced.

Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, wants to continue the program unchanged.

Alderman Eleanor Revelle, 7th Ward, agrees with Fiske. Says the trees reduce water runoff and capture greenhouse gases.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, agrees. Says change would only save $100K over three years — and cost the loss of a lot of trees.

Fleming says she’s concerned about maintaining staff and service levels. Has hard time spending almost $1 million on one species of tree. Says its the highest cost for public works after staff.

Rainey says a vote for trees is not a vote against staff. Says should stay with the plan for saving elm trees — which has always worked.

Storlie says has general direction — will move forward with regular tree injection program — with contract to come up for vote at a future meeting.

SP6 – Budget discussion — COVID-19 impacts

Storlie says impact of pandemic on budget is very hard to tell. Says could lose 10 to 20 percent of revenues — or about $11 million to $20 million 

Storlie reviews presentation.

Related story.

Says could take a couple of years to get the budget back to normal — because of delays in business recovery.

Says the previous estimate of $10.6 million is a floor for the potential losses. Says now appears the situation will get worse — with revenue shortfalls of $15 million to $20 million.

If state stay-at-home order is extended into June budget situation will get even worse.

Desai says the general fund was budgeted to end the fiscal year at $17.2. Now looks like it could end up at $6.5 million in a “best case” situation or at a minus $3.5 million in the “worst case” scenario.

Mayor notes that the city policy is to have two-months worth of spending as a minimum balance in the general fund — and it’s this year’s budget didn’t meet that target.

After various proposed reductions and reallocations city staff has come up with — the $10.6 million deficit figure only is reduced to $4.2 million.

Management is talking to city unions. If they were to agree to 10 unpaid days for rest of the year, it would save about $2.3 million

Braithwaite suggests there’s potential for reducing police overtime. Storlie says she’s been discussing that with the police chief. Has reduced number of deputy chiefs from three to two. Considering other changes.

Says there’s been about a 20 percent reduction in calls for the Fire Department, but, because of required minimum staffing levels, it’s difficult to achieve overtime reductions there.

Fleming asks about making more cuts for people making more money than for lower paid-employees.

Storlie says there could be a small percentage reduction in overall pay for employees making over $100K a year — as part of an equity process.

Slide (above) from presentation by Kate Lewis-Lakin, the city’s budget coordinator discusses how to achieve equity in the budget-cutting process..

Lewis-Lakin says other budget options would include expanding the amusement tax to include streaming services and possibly delaying funding of the reparations fund until Jan. 1 of next year.

Rue-Simmons objects delaying reparations funding. Says there’s a plan and a path forward with a recommendation coming from the reparations subcommittee to the full City Council in June. Says the trauma of COVID-19 for the black community further highlights the need to prioritize the reparations work.

Braithwaite also objects. Rainey objects. (They are the two other members of the reparations subcommittee.) “It’s disrespectful to put this up here. You’ve embarrassed us,” Rainey says.

Hagerty defends the city manager decision to making the suggestion. Says aldermen attacking the manager for that is inappropriate.

Braithwaite wants to remove the idea of postponing the reparations funding from consideration.

Storlie says she will bring up any idea money-saving idea she can think of, “until you tell me no.”

Hagerty says, “Just because we may not like the options isn’t a reason to attack the city manager.” She should be presenting all options, he says.

Storlie says if other cuts aren’t found the city could have to cut 50 jobs “in the very near term” to make up for the minimum $4.2 million budget gap the city is facing now.

Says the worst case scenario is being more than $3 million in the hole — with a negative fund balance.

No vote taken on the budget item.

Consent agenda

Numerous items removed. What’s left of the consent agenda is approved unanimously.

Now discussion begins on the items that were removed ….

A2 – Amazon credit card activity

Approved 8-0. Suffredin abstains.

A3 – Refuse vehicle replacement — $288K

Fleming says would prefer to postpone the purchase. Wilson suggests postponing the vote on it until the summer.

Stoneback says it’s a 2008 truck that is proposed for replacement — one of the oldest in the city fleet. Trucks generally have a 10-year life span — this one is 12 years old, he says. Says with the size of the city’s trash truck fleet, the city should be should be replacing a truck each year. If trucks fail, the city won’t be able to pick up recycling.

Braithwaite says he’d support holding off. Wants to see a service report on the vehicle.

Wilson moves holding it until the first meeting in July. Gets a second. And that delay is approved.

A4 – Green Bay Road bioswale project — $58K

Fleming says would rather spend the money on something else more urgent.

Approved 7-2. Fleming and Suffredin vote no.

A5 – Contract for water main improvements $3.05M

Approved 9-0.

A6 – Timekeeping software purchase

Approved 8-1.  Suffredin votes no.

A7 – Stormwater master plan contract with Hey and Associates $591K.

Stoneback says overland water flow is a big issue with anticipated more intense storms. Says staff doesn’t have sufficient manpower to do the job in house.

Approved 9-0.

A8 – Evanston Cradle to Career annual payment of $50K

Fleming says she appreciates the work Cradle to Career has done — but thinks they need to report performance more often. Says should be reporting through the Mental Health Board and haven’t been. Says can’t support the payment. Suggests spending the money on general assistance or emergency assistance.

Rue Simmons says she supports the project. Says Cradle to Career is doing great work and reaching less engaged community residents.

Says they’re doing a great job of reaching the Haitian and Hispanic communities.

Wilson says agrees with Rue Simmons. Says there’s a lot of value in the coordination work. Takes a lot of burden off the city.

Rainey says apprecated the survey Cradle to Career did for the Community Development Block Grant program.

Braithwaite says when city needed the group the most they’ve come through.

Approved 7-2. Suffredin and Fleming vote no.

A11- Limiting third-party food delivery service fees

Wilson says he generally doesn’t like having the government set prices for things. But says it’s a consumer information issue. Says restaurants end up paying additional charges. Says not sure the ordinance totally fixes the problem.

Suffredin says he may be able to come up with something better in two weeks. Says the delivery companies aren’t necessarily bad actors. But says that under the situation now — with restaurants on the edge of survival — the city needs to try to protect them, needs to take action immediately.

Braithwaite asks is the advocacy here for the consumers or the restaurant owners?

Suffredin says the proposal would cap what third party delivery services can charge restaurants.

Wynne says when restaurants are surviving on takeout, as is the case now, the ordinance is a way to help them survive. She suggests leaving the proposed regulation in place through July 1.

Suffredin says it would be better to stick with the governor’s executive order expiration date — the end of May.

Fiske says business organizations in the city should promote ordering from the restaurants directly.

Approved 9-0

A14 – Penalty provisions for public health orders … and pandemics

Ike Ogbo, health director, says penalty provisions would encompass any violation of public health emergency orders.

Fleming says she’s concerned that it not look like a revenue generator for the city.

Ogbo says the health department is focused on gaining compliance through education … not fines. But this would be a last resort.

So far health department hasn’t issued any fines related to the COVID-19 rules, Ogbo says.

Approved 9-0.

P2 – Planned development 605 Davis St.

Rainey notes the develper has agreed to several changes to reduce danger to traffic in the alley.

Fiske says she’s opposed to the project, though says appreciates the changes Rainey mentioned.

Says the developer is requesting too many and too big variations. Doesn’t like having the bank drive-thru — calls it a dangerous situation.

Approved 8-1. Fiske votes no.

Call of the Wards

Braithwaite … thanks residents who are “staying-in-place.” Says will have 2nd Ward virtual meeting Thursday at 5 p.m.

Wynne .. .thanks city staff for superb work they’re doing.

Rue-Simmons …5th Ward weekly virtual meeting Wednesday.

Fleming… says city provided 415 boxes of food at the James Park food pantry last week.

Fiske … notes passing of Rosemary O’Neil last week.

Council votes to go into executive session

Public meeting ends at 10:04 p.m.

Next meeting on Monday, May 11.

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