New City vehicle stickers, new fees and drug money seized by law enforcement officials – on the revenue side – were counterbalanced on the cost side of the ledger by another real estate purchase and a new bond issuance when City Council met on June 27. It was the last meeting before the 2012 budget will dominate matters, beginning with the next meeting on July 11.

New Market Rates

Without any substantive discussion, Council also added two new fees to the books. Settling the dispute over farmers’ market inspection fees – at least from the City’s perspective – is a new three-tiered fee structure. A high-risk tier, when food requires extensive handling, will cost vendors $225 per year. If food requires minimal handling, the cost to vendors will be $150 per year. Prepackaged foods, such as wrapped cookies prepared and packaged in an already City-inspected kitchen, will still cost vendors $75. Responding to a question from Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, staff confirmed that the new three-tiered approach applies only to the farmers’ markets and not to festivals.

Historic Notification

Property-owners seeking to renovate homes within historic districts will find the process a little more expensive. Council approved, without discussion, an additional fee that will cover notice sent by the City to all neighbors within 250 feet of an applicant seeking a “Certificate of Appropriateness.” The City charged between $25 and $100 for COAs, depending on the type of project. The new notice provision will add between $50 and $135 per application, depending on the number of addresses within 250 feet. These fees apply even if the proposed renovations are entirely within the applicable zoning code.

The Rewards of Crime

Finally, on the revenue side, recent police activity has seized thousands of dollars in connection with drug and gun busts and other arrests. By law, police departments can be awarded “a large amount,” for such seizures, said Ald. Rainey. The bills list indicated an award of $13,149.32 to the Evanston Police Department.

Howard Land Rush

On the expenditure side, Council voted to authorize City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz to negotiate for the purchase of another building on Howard Street, this time at 623-627. The purchase price cannot exceed $475,000, with the money being loaned by the Economic Development Fund to the Howard-Ridge TIF. If the deal goes through, it will be the third building bought by the City on that small stretch of Howard Street within a year.

The measure did not pass without debate. Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, said, “I don’t think this is a bad idea or a bad purpose,” but he objected to spending that amount of money in troubled budgetary times. He was joined by Alderman Judy Fisk, 1st Ward. But they were alone. Even Ald. Burrus, who calls herself the most fiscally conservative member of Council, voted for the measure citing the importance of economic development.

Ald. Rainey said that the redevelopment of struggling Howard Street required active intervention by the City. She said that just that week she had received notice from a second theater group seeking space there. She did not identify the theater other than to say it is well established. Polarity Theater has said it will decide this month whether to move to City-owned space at 727-729 Howard St. Ald. Rainey said she hopes the newly interested theater will move to another Howard address or replace Polarity, should they pull out.

As for the 623-627 Howard St. property, Ald. Rainey said she hopes to get a middle-scale restaurant to take it. She said she had already shown the space to a couple of prospects. After the discussion concluded, the measure passed 7-2 with aldermen Wilson and Fisk voting no.

Issuing Bonds

Council voted to introduce an ordinance that would provide for the issuance of over $19 million in General Obligation bond debt. Ald. Burrus provided the lone no vote as the measure proceeded without discussion. Evanston’s G.O. debt will increase from over $101 million to over $109 million if expected debt is incurred. The debt will cover capital projects (up to $9.12 million), sewer fund (up to $8 million) and debt refinancing ($2.12 million). Efforts to reduce G.O debt will obviously continue in the coming years.

Finally, Council amended the powers and duties of the Mayor to include the power to solemnize marriages and solemnize and certify civil unions. Council suspended the rules, which require two readings of an ordinance, in order to make the new powers effective immediately.