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Construction projects valued at $500,000 or more and funded by the City must now prove that Evanston residents performed at least some of the work in order to comply with a new ordinance passed by City Council on Dec. 8. Despite some reservations about implementation and costs, City Council approved the Local Employment Ordinance requiring contractors to hire Evanston residents to perform at least 15 percent of the total work hours at the construction sites of projects meeting the dollar-value threshold.

The Local Employment Program will be administered by the City’s Business Development Coordinator, Lloyd Shepard, who maintains a database of Evanston residents from which to refer workers as needed. Based on current capital projects in planning for 2009-10, the ordinance is expected to result in 15.5 additional jobs for Evanston residents.

According to a recent memo from Mr. Shepard and Purchasing and Contracts Manager Jewell Jackson, the unemployment rate in Evanston stands at 7 percent.

At the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting on Nov. 24, Mr. Shepard said that he has union members calling him “every day” looking for work and that no one knows when the economy, and specifically the construction industry, will turn around. Further, he said, a number of residents worked on the recent sewer relief program gaining valuable experience as trained laborers.

The Shepard-Jackson memo revealed that the local-resident database currently has 30 registered applicants, but Mr. Shepard said he expects that number to grow in response to the passage of the ordinance.

The ordinance is based upon similar ordinances passed in other municipalities that are designed to address rising unemployment in the construction industry. Mr. Shepard said a similar program has worked successfully in Hartford, Conn., with no increase in construction costs at all.

The resident employment requirement, based upon the total hours worked on a project, provides contractors with flexibility in complying.  At the Nov. 24 meeting, Finance Director Martin Lyons noted that developers could decide how to meet the standard and allocate project work hours as they choose, and that the City did not wish to build specifics into the ordinance.

Contractors are free to hire residents early or late in a project as long as they ultimately meet the resident percentage threshold, he said.

In response to questioning by Eighth Ward Alderman Ann Rainey, Mr. Shepard said contractors are not expected or required to provide an estimate of total project hours prior to embarking upon a project.

As a result, in practice, the ordinance will require contractors to provide the Business Development office with weekly and monthly payroll reports in order to prove compliance.

The reports will detail the total project hours, number of workers, and number of hours worked by Evanston residents; and the reports will be the primary method of proving compliance, although the ordinance also provides for site inspections.

The ordinance requires contractors to initially acknowledge the existence of the Local Employment Program and incorporate it by reference when submitting qualified bids.

Thereafter, the contractor must show that it has taken steps to comply by a) using the Local Residents Database maintained by the City, b) notifying residents of available work by advertising in local newspapers and notifying the Illinois Department of Job Security about available jobs, and c) for contracts using union labor, contacting in writing Chicagoland labor unions to request residents for the project.

If the contractor can show these steps were taken and no residents were available, then the Business Development Coordinator may issue a waiver for the project.

Ald. Rainey did not appear to be convinced that the program will work effectively. She said, “I think implementation will be a nightmare for both Mr. Shepard and contractors bidding on projects. It adds a layer of confusion to the process.”

Second Ward Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste responded by acknowledging possible difficulties, but called them “worst-case scenarios that are highly unusual and unlikely to occur.” He said that, once the ordinance is put into practice, “small tweaks” will make it work.

First Ward Alderman Cheryl Wollin agreed with Ald. Jean-Baptiste, saying that the ordinance should be put into effect followed by a progress report in six months to see if it is working.

The Shepard-Jackson memo also listed Evanston capital projects budgeted in 2008-09 and in planning for 2009-10, breaking down project costs and anticipating total project hours.

The memo concluded that ten additional jobs would have been available in the current fiscal year and 15.5 could be expected next year.