At a special City Council meeting this week Evanston aldermen tried to come up with ideas for how to improve the community without having to raise taxes.

Consultant Jean Bonander, a former city manager in California, told the aldermen at the meeting, billed as a visioning session, they’re “wrestling well with the money monster. But it’s not easy, and its not going to get easier.”

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said that for her a key goal for improving Evanston would be to see that “a child who graduates from ETHS who is not going on to college will have the same vast array of career opportunities before them that the college student does.”

But she conceded that the city has only “a little” of the responsibility for education and said there’s a need to get the elementary, high school and community college districts more involved to reach that goal.

Young people who don’t successfully launch careers frequently add to the city’s crime problem. And City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that in the interest of addressing those problems, beyond a purely police response, over the past few years the city has increased its youth outreach staff from one to 3.5 full-time-equivalent employees.

But with a need to increase pension funding and a backlog of capital projects, he said, there’s a limit to how much more the city can take on.

Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, suggested meetings with school officials as well as officials at the university and the city’s two hospitals — which are the communities three largest employers — to try to address the problems.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, suggested that if other partners could do more to solve the education and career preparation issue, then the city would be able to spend more money on paving streets and fixing water mains.

Infrastructure issues are approaching a desperate condition, Wilson said, “I’d like to get ahead of it if possible.”

Tisdahl said she hoped that the city could find ways to decrease the amount it spends on pensions without impacting current pension holders, increase revenue by selling water to other communities, and work with Northwestern University to keep more of the new businesses incubated on campus growing in Evanston rather than moving out of town.

Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, said the city needs to invest strategically in economic development projects and develop better ways to forecast their return on investment.

“There’s a lot of risk,” Burrus said, in projects like those on Howard Street. “But it is growing. We need to know what it will look like in five years.”

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, suggested having more community discussions about economic development to decide how best to use the tools and what a reasonable rate of return is.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Attn, City Council: You are not the School Board!

    I know the mayor was once on the  school board, but the council needs to realize they have a different responsibility.

    The one way the city could improve the schools and deal with the tax issues is to focus their efforts on improving property values throughout the city.

    They can do this by concentrating on improving infrastructure that attracts employers, help kickstart real estate development in degraded areas like Howard St., Dempster/Dodge and Church/Dodge, and heavily fine property owners who keep their property in disrepair.

    And they can also improve their toghness on criminals.

    The city should target the high-crime areas like the west side for redevelopment that increases property values.  

    1. I totally agree

      I totally agree with iganf!  The areas around McCormick, Green Bay Road and Church are totally in shambles. 

  2. Clueless City Council

    How city government officials can improve Evanston

    1) Someone who doesn't go to college should have the same "vast array of career opportunities" as someone who does go to college

    2) More meetings with D65 and D202 school officials, NU officials and hospital administrators to "address the problems," I presume are kids who choose not to earn a college degree.

    3) Invest more taxpayer money on preferred economic development projects the Council likes.

    Well, why not ban paper bags, all things plastic, hire more meter maids to drive around and ticket motorists idling their cars, hire a windmill consultant, replace all city gas powered vehilces with electric vehicles and build low income housing projects in the 1st and 6th wards, That would solve of all of our problems. No need to raise taxes just increase all the city fees, electric rates and so on.

    It's mind boggling how our city leaders never ever mention the cause of these problems. Single parents. The No. 1 reason for poverty is out of wedlock births. No one on the Council ever mentions it. Because no one mentions it then it's safe to presume the Council and our school boards do not understand the problem and will never begin to solve it. The first step in solving any problem is accurately defining it. 

    Lower city taxes, reduce cumbersome city regulations and all the fees attached and streamline the layers of city government, regulation and the permit process. Make it easy and desireable to do business in Evanston and they will come while others will stay.

    Evanston needs more businesses. Too many are closing or moving. The vacancy rate for commercial highrises is higher than it needs to be. 

    That rental highrise on Maple and Emerson used to be a technology park built about 20 years ago. It failed because taxes were too high and technology startups went elsewhere, many to Texas.

    This Council is totally clueless.

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