The City's budget debate largely settled, it remains necessary to enact the fee increases contemplated by that budget to make it balance. That, along with the Tower debate dominated the Nov. 25 City Council meeting.
First up was an increase in water rates. Evanston residents have seen their water rates increase 10 percent in 2011, 5 percent in 2012, 3 percent in 2013, and now 10 percent more in 2014. Two more water rate increases are in the pipeline, as the Council packet referenced 10 percent increases contemplated in both 2015 and 2016.
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said that although the increase results in only $20 to $30 more per year, “It really adds up.” Stacking increases on top of increases will place Evanston's annual combined water and sewer costs well ahead of those of neighboring communities, 80 percent higher than those in Skokie. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, was the sole “no” vote on the increase.
Next up was an increase in refuse collection fees for the larger garbage carts. Ald Rainey said that the only reason she could support the increase from $14.95 per month to $17.95 per month was that the rate for the smaller 65-gallon can remains $7.95 per month.
Ald. Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, asked how many residents had a 65-gallon cart as opposed to 95-gallon one. City CFO Marty Lyons said about 1,870, up about 15 percent over the previous year. Ald. Rainey said some people have the bigger trash can only because they do not know that a smaller one is available. She encouraged everyone who wants to save on garbage fees, appearing on the water bill, to call 311 and ask for the smaller, 65-gallon trash cart.
Ald. Holmes asked City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to help educate the population. “Done,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz.
The City is also borrowing another $2.3 million from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency for construction of the 48-inch-diameter intake improvements project. IEPA loans carry an interest rate of just 1.95 percent. By comparison, said Mr. Lyons, the City's construction loan rate is 3.6 percent. The project involves inserting electric, heated cables into the water intake to prevent anchor ice. Several years ago, a large anchor-ice crisis shut down most City water service almost completely. The improvements are designed to prevent a repeat. Also, a plastic pipe will be added to feed chlorine, which kills zebra mussels and other invasive species that could potentially clog the system, into the intake.
The City plans to replace its current, early 21st-century desktop computers with “virtual desktops,” small boxes that connect to a bank of larger servers. Gone will be the old-fashioned computer boxes. The new, dinner-plate-sized boxes can be moved around the office easily and can connect to the server from multiple locations. The cost will be about $1,300 per workstation, but could go down as low as $1,000 per station if the City replaces all 650 desktops. For now, 100 are being replaced for about $135,000.
Finally, Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, recommended that Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl appoint frequent City critic Junad Rizki to the Utilities Commission. Mr. Rizki repeatedly questions City water department decisions. The Mayor appeared reluctant to take such action, at least initially.