Seldom does a City Council agenda contain such a wealth of controversial, weighty issues all scheduled for a single meeting. Monday night, Oct. 24, however, presented just such an agenda, with items such as a plastic bag tax, a $5 million per mile road project, pensions, franchise agreements, and possible Township dissolution all up for discussion. From the ridiculous to the sublime, as they say, although it is unclear what, if any, item qualifies as “sublime.”
The Administration and Public Works agenda on its own contained enough material to fill at least one full City Council night. Four contracts passed without any discussion at all, including a nearly $400,000 repair to the water department caused by a May 15 fire. The repair costs “are expected” to be reimbursed in part by insurance, though from the staff memo it is difficult to tell how much will be covered. Other contracts include $162,000 for sewer pipe repairs, $33,000 for Luminaire lights (half paid by a donation from Northwestern), and $45,500 for James Park renovations.
Dissatisfaction with ComEd over the summer brought on by frequent power outages has led to the investigation of becoming a “municipal power aggregator.” The City could act “on behalf of its constituents in procuring their electric supply, either directly or via a third party supplier.” The end result, according to City Manger Wally Bobkeiwicz, could be a 10-15% savings on each resident’s power bill.
Council voted to study aggregation and make a decision in December, in time to get the matter on a general ballot for the March election because becoming an aggregator requires a referendum. While the move could save on power bills, it will not solve the ComEd problem because power delivery would still be over ComEd power lines.
The Comcast franchise agreement was a different story, as Council expressed general satisfaction with the cable company and its service. The current franchise agreement expires in November but will now be renewed for seven years. It continues to be non-exclusive, meaning citizens can get service elsewhere if they chose. Further, Comcast agreed to cover the cost of relocating ECMC from Hartrey Street to the City Service Center.
And then came the pensions. Arthur H. Tepfer, an actuarial consultant hired by the police and fire funds and the City to prepare a joint actuarial review, delivered his report regarding funding the pension funds in 2012 and beyond. This will be the first year under the new Illinois law calling for a specific “actuarial methodology,” known as Projected Unit Credit as a percentage of payroll.
According to Mr. Tepfer, the IRS states that the method cannot be used, and yet “the state of Illinois has mandated this… This is where I’m sure that our [state] legislators are smoking something.”The bottom line is a recommendation to fund the Police and Fire pension funds at an amount significantly higher than that allowed by the state minimum, but less than the prior year’s original contribution projection. What this means for residents’ tax bills has yet to be determined, but the recommended increases in the total contribution to the two funds moves up $780,500 from $14.15 million to $14.93 million.
Next came the Planning and Development meeting, which started nearly an hour late due to the length of A&PW. The committee approved the introduction of major variances for 12 units and parking reduction for a project at 2500 Green Bay Road that has been stuck in semi-constructed limbo for years. The plans, if approved, would result in a 12 unit project with 15 on-site parking spaces. Parking was the issue for Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd ward, because there are so few options nearby. The project will return in two weeks for a final vote.
Likewise, the matter of Colonel Jay Pritzker’s 300 Church St. bed-and-breakfast will return in two weeks. The proposed ordinance allowing the conversion to a B & B required a particular operator, individually named, or the special use would be lost. The Committee originally voted to strike this provision because, according to (4th WSard) Alderman Don Wilson, it amounted to “indentured servitude.” But the provision returned in a different form, as an amendment requiring Colonel Pritzker to remain as an owner of the B & B or lose the special use, and was further tweaked to allow any owner-operator living in the home at the time Pritzker “divests” himself of the home to remain in operation. The Committee seemed to have confused itself in crafting this particular provision, and it stands to reason that in two weeks it will be refined further.
At City Council, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl recognized the donation of roller skates to the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department by Samuel McKinley, Jr. of Best Taxi. The total donation was $9,000 and covered the purchase of adult and youth skates which will be available as part of the City’s expanding roller skating program. “This is not the only wonderful thing [Mr. McKinley’] has done for the City,” said the Mayor.
After the roller skating news, it was on to the Township and plastic bags in a meeting that lasted until midnight. Council barely discussed the Tiger II grant application for a $5 million per mile stretch of Church Street from the NS Channel to Chicago. It passed 7-2 with Alds. Wilson and Burrus voting no.