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City Council met on a Tuesday night so as to accommodate the annual meeting of the Evanston Township trustees on April 13. The trustees happen to consist of all the aldermen, making the Township meeting fit neatly within a regular City Council night, so the only real difference between this council night and any other was the day of the week.

The Administration and Public Works committee’s relatively light agenda contained only a couple of mildly controversial issues. Library automation services sludge disposal, and alley paving did not qualify as controversial. The replacement of the Fleetwood-Jourdain roof, however, led to unexpected discussions about funding.

The bid for roof replacement came in at about $55,000 below the budgeted cost, at roughly $187,000 rather than the expected $243,000. Funding came from the Capital Improvement Program, augmented by $50,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, wanted the CDBG funds back, arguing that the CIP money was sufficient to cover the full cost of the project.

Doug Gaynor, the City’s Director of Parks, was not opposed to returning the CDBG funds, but he pointed out that “we may find certain conditions that weren’t anticipated” during repairs. Funds cannot be returned, he said, until project conclusion.

“I think somebody needs to manage the project so it doesn’t go over $50,000, and give us back the $50,000,” responded Ald. Rainey. She said the CDBG committee could find plenty of uses for the money.

Planning and Development was even less feisty than A&PW. The committee happily approved a special use permit for Andy’s Frozen Custard, a new restaurant coming to 719 Church Street. Andy Kuntz, president and manager, said he expected to be open by the end of May.

At Council, the City celebrated being named a Tree City by the National Arbor Day Foundation for the 26th straight year. Forestry Division head Paul D’Agostino said that only 10 cities in Illinois have a longer “Tree City” streak than Evanston. Evanston also received a “Growth Award” from NADF for its tree care workshop and its efforts as a host site for the release of a predator wasp that targets the emerald ash borer. The tiny wasps, about the size of a poppy seed, attack ash borer eggs. Over the next 2 to 3 years, we will see if the wasp release works to reduce ash borer populations according to the City’s web site.

The Township meeting began with a recitation of its financial situation, which City Clerk Rodney Greene described as “in good standing.” Township Supervisor Patricia Vance said that general expenses and overhead, which make up about half of the Township’s budget, are “in line with other townships.” Staff performs all administrative functions of the township, case management tends to be very intense, and state paperwork requirements time consuming, and all of that adds up to high overhead costs.

In recent years, the Township has actually carried a surplus, and some of that surplus has been given to the City for “community purchased services” such as contributions to the Mental Health Board programs. Ms. Vance warned that the current level of support, about $300,000 in the current fiscal year, could not continue for long. Once the Township’s surplus is exhausted, the support will dry up.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked what the Trustees could do for the Township. Ms. Vance answered that more dialogue, and more a strategic approach to the Township and its director, would be helpful. Ald., Rainey, bucking the current trend in the City toward the elimination or consolidation of boards and committees, said, “I really think we ought to have a Township Committee… All we do [now] is talk about the {township’s] bills.” A referral was made to the Rule Committee to discuss creating a Township Committee within the Council.

The Township’s new assessor, Bonnie Wilson, then took the stage. Me. Wilson, elected in April but sworn in months later in January because the assessor’s term is tied to the tax year rather than the City Council’s term, began by lobbying for a change in the law that would seat Assessor’s earlier. She said that Representative Hamos had sponsored a bill that would make such a change.

Ms. Wilson lambasted the prior practice of not sending building permits to the County Assessor. Previously, permits with a project cost of less than $65,000 were not forwarded to the County Assessor’s office. Ms. Wilson said that 4,909 permits were found to have not been reported. Now they have. Higher taxes for those 4,909 homes will soon follow. 

Ms. Wilson campaigned saying she would move the assessor’s office back to City Hall and save on overhead, but Tuesday night she said that since taking office she has changed her mind. “”At this point, I do not think it’s a good idea,” she said, citing access for elderly patrons.

The Township meeting then ended for another year.