No one spoke at the public hearings on the property tax levies for the City of Evanston, the Town(ship) of Evanston and special service area #4, held during the Nov. 23 City Council meeting.

Those taxes will be paid in 2010. The City’s levy increased by $1.7 million or 4.5 percent, said Assistant Finance Director Steve Drazner. There was no change this year to the Township tax levy, and the special service district levy decreased by about 26 percent, owing to an error in the last year’s levy he said. Noting the dearth of speakers, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I was hoping there’d be a long line.”

Proposal to Increase Refuse and Recycling Fees

The City spends about $5.1 million annually to collect refuse, recycling and yard waste. Residents pay about $1.6 million in waste collection fees, and the balance of about $3.5 million is paid out of the City’s General Fund.

At the Administration and Public Works Committee, Interim Public Works Director Suzette Eggleston presented three options for the City’s refuse and recycling pickups:

• Maintaining the same service providers but modifying the operations and increasing service charges;

• Switching the private and public operators so that City crews, who now pick up refuse, would pick up recycling, and refuse collections would be performed by a private contractor; and

• Outsourcing both types of collections.

Ald. Rainey said she views the $3.5 million spent from the General Fund on waste collection as an expected use of taxpayers’ money. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, however, characterizes the cost as a “subsidy” and says he would like to see the City, within three years, be able to recoup the entire cost of the operation.

The options presented by Ms. Eggleston would increase certain fees – some across the board and some affecting only residents who use certain pickup services. All three would entail discontinuing the use of the recycling center on Oakton Street for recycling purposes. The committee members will discuss the options more fully on Dec. 7.

Energy Code, Vacant Buildings Ordinance

City Council approved for introduction the International Energy Conservation Code, which is likely to be approved on Dec. 14. The code will become part of Illinois State law in January, but the Council wished to adopt it earlier, as it may help Evanston participate more fully in grants and rebate programs sponsored by Commonwealth Edison.

Also introduced, with passage expected in December, was a modification to the City’s vacant buildings ordinance that increases certain fees to “reflect the staff time and costs that goes into these buildings,” said Interim Community Development Director Dennis Marino. It also “allows the City to take more action regarding foreclosures, he said.

Verizon Held

On the advice of City Manager Mr. Bobkiewicz, members of the Administration and Public Works Committee held a proposed amendment to the lease with Verizon Wireless for its cell-phone receivers on the Civic Center tower. He said the company is “interested in making new additions on the site” and he would like to be confident the City is “getting as much money as possible.”

Downtown Zoning Update

The zoning committee of the Plan Commission is working to rezone downtown properties to conform to the downtown plan adopted earlier this year, said zoning administrator Bill Dunkley at the Planning and Development Committee meeting. “The goal is to replace every downtown zoning district with the eight new districts,” he said. “We are completely rezoning 50 acres of some of the most important real estate north of Chicago,” he added. The process could take up to six months to complete, Mr. Dunkley said, because there will be public hearings on both the text and the map amendments. He said the committee hopes to bring the new document to the Planning and Development Committee by April.