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At the Feb. 16 Rules Committee meeting, aldermen and City staff continued their discussion of how to induce tax-exempt agencies to make a contribution to the City. Some aldermen said they wished to bring all the tax-exempt entities to an “Everybody Can Contribute” meeting to present the City’s dire financial situation and ask for help. With Northwestern University, the two hospitals, about 90 churches, roughly 18 public school properties and City parks, streets and sidewalks, about 42 percent of the City’s property is off the tax rolls.
Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he thought it would be a “waste of time” simply to bring the parties together and ask for a contribution. “You have to make a case: ‘You need to give us something to help us, and we can help you, too,’” he said, adding, “If you say it’s because you get to live in a place like Evanston [that you should contribute], it won’t be good enough.”
Alderman Steve Bernstein, 4tth Ward, differed: “I would prefer instead to ask ‘What can you contribute to the City to make it the most livable city. Why contribute? Because you live here.’”
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said she had been invited to meeting of the ministers’ alliance. She said they are concerned and “very anxious to talk,” because some of the churches own quite a bit of property.
By law, tax-exempt entities must pay property taxes on income-generating property. For example, until St. Francis Hospital made its hospital-parking free, it paid property taxes on the parcel and still pays property taxes on its for-profit rental properties. Northwestern University is responsible for paying leasehold taxes on property it rents, such as the offices in the 1800 Sherman building.
Aldermen decided that the process should be one of educating the public. Interim City Manager Rolanda Russell said, “We should have a conversation and educate the public about what we’re going through. Contributions need not be in cash. They may be in intellectual capital or in-kind services.”
In another matter, on the motion of Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, the Rules Committee decided to seek the advice of Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, the City’s former lobbyist in Springfield, about hiring a lobbyist to go to Springfield to seek as much stimulus-package money as possible for Evanston projects.