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City Clerk Rodney Green delivered a strong wind advisory warning to start the Oct. 24 City Council meeting. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the storm was expected to be a “once every 50 or 75 year event” and that the fire department had canceled training to be fully at the ready Tuesday and Wednesday. Fortunately, things were decidedly calmer in the Council chambers. While no meeting of late can be complete without squabbles over library spending and a chicken reference or two, the meeting felt more like a precursor to difficult budget decisions to come than a meeting filled with such decisions.
At the Administration and Public Works meeting, Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, questioned at length the cost of keeping the branch libraries open. Library administrator Paul Gottschalk presented a line-item budget showing expected expenditures through Feb. 28, 2011. Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, joined the conversation to make sure the cost of phone service and Internet, now paid for directly by the City’s IT department, were included in the calculation. The total cost of operating the two branch libraries is between $300,000 and $320,000 per year. Mr. Bobkiewicz reminded the Council that under his proposed budget, library funding would stay the same as that for 2009, the branches would be closed, and the $150,000 allocated this year for operating the branch libraries for six months would be folded into the Main library budget, primarily for collection acquisition. The Library Board, Mayor Tisdahl, the Library Friends, and the rest of Council remained silent, apparently saving their comments for the budget battles to come.
Ald. Rainey and Alderman Lionel Jean-Baptiste, 2nd ward, both questioned the approximately $50,000 per month spent by Connections for the Homeless. Ald. Jean-Baptiste suggested that Connections Director Paul Selden appear at the committee’s next meeting to explain. Ald. Rainey called it “an absolute crime” that a crossing guard sits poised on the brink of eviction (see page 17), when othe cases that seem less dire receive aid.
Budget questions continued at the Council meeting, with several disabled citizens, during citizen comment, speaking against the proposal to cut one of the City’s three ADA coordinator positions. Mr. Bobkiewicz and Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, both suggested that citizens would be better served by a single, fully trained and engaged ADA coordinator rather than by the present three-person arrangement, which, he said, often resulted in calls being routed through two or three people before an answer could be found.
Council made way for micro distilleries in the City by adding a liquor license provision and changing the zoning code to allow such businesses in commercial zones as a special use. Micro distilleries, which produce small batches (up to 5,000 gallons) of spirits such as whiskey, gin and vodka, and have tasting room to allow sampling as well as a retail presence, have become somewhat of a trend. Now they are legal, and possible, in Evanston. Council also introduced, to be voted on next meeting, a zoning change that would make religious institutions a special use in business, commercial and downtown districts.
At present, they are zoned “permitted use.” Ald. Rainey noted seven storefront churches on one block of Howard Street, in a TIF district, as the inspiration for the proposed change. Churches are “dead space during the week,” she said. Finally, Council introduced an amendment that would allow animal hospitals as a special use in business and commercial districts.
Perhaps the most controversial item on the agenda was a proposal by Director of Public Works Suzette Robinson to add a $2-per-ton fee for waste traveling through the Veolia transfer station on Church Street. Alderman Judy Fiske, 1st Ward, said that when this fee gets passed through to customers it “will be another tax on small business.” Her voice was drowned out, as Ald. Jean-Baptiste said Council should consider a higher fee. His idea received support from Alds. Holmes and Rainey. Asked by Ald. Jean-Baptise how Veolia had reacted to the proposal, Ms. Robinson said, “They have not responded, but they know we are discussing this.”
Later, though, during citizen comment, Gerald Callaghan, an attorney for Veolia, said Veolia had learned of the proposal only that afternoon. “None of the fees [referenced in the staff memo] were fees proposed by ordinance,” he said, but instead were the result of negotiations between Veolia and government bodies. “Veolia would be very happy to come in and talk to whomever you designate,” he said. Despite his appearance, the transfer fee was introduced on the consent agenda without debate, to be voted on on Nov. 8.
Chickens were again on the agenda as an amendment proposed by Ald. Rainey to limit the number of coops to three per ward. “Everyone’s all aflutter about chickens,” she said just before she removed the item and referred it to the Human Services Committee “where it really belongs for discussion.”
The Zoning Department delivered a six- month report on the gas station and convenience store at 555 Howard St. Limited hours were instituted about six months ago after it was discovered that the store had been operating 24 hours illegally. Zoning Administrator Bill Dunkley reported that since the hours changed, monthly for police service decreased by about half. “When the convenience store is closed, there is peace in the neighborhood,” said Ald. Rainey.
Finally, Council again shifted the hours of committee meetings. The Administration and Public Works Committee will now meet at 5:45 p.m., and the Planning and Development Committee at 7:15 p.m.. City Council will now start “immediately following the conclusion of the P&D meeting.”