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Two City and one School District ballot initiatives will greet voters as they enter polling booths on March 20 for the primary election. One asks voters whether the City should continue to pursue the dissolution of Evanston Township, a separate governmental entity with the same borders as the City. A second asks voters whether the City should become an electricity aggregator and negotiate presumably lower electricity rates for Evanston residents and small businesses.
A third referendum, brought by School District 65, asks voters to approve funding for a new K-5 school in the Fifth Ward, additional classrooms and upgrades to Haven and Nichols Middle Schools, and upgrades to King Lab and Rhodes Magnet Schools, in the total amount of $48.2 million.
City Council voted on Jan. 9 to conduct a series of meetings designed to provide background information to interested residents concerning the initiatives for electricity aggregation and dissolution of the township.
The meetings are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 30 in City Council chambers,. Morton Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.; 7 p.m. on Feb. 23 at Robert Crown Center , 1701 Main St.; and 7 p.m. on March 8 at Fleetwood- Jourdain Center , 1655 Foster St. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said staff would appear at individual ward meetings.
Dissolution of the Township?
Township Assessor Bonnie Wilson told Council members that under Illinois law informational meetings concerning a referendum must be completely neutral and not take a position one way or the other. Neutrality will be difficult, however, said Alderman Donald Wilson, Fourth Ward, particularly on the Township issue, given Council’s public comments and votes seeking dissolution in 2011. “How is it going to be scripted? One meeting where a staff member says, ‘This is a great thing,’ and you’ve blown the whole thing out of the water,” he said.
Mr. Bobkiewicz said the meetings will be very carefully scripted to avoid any hint of bias. “I think we can accomplish that,” he added. Ald. Wilson was not fully convinced, saying that he would not be discussing the ballot initiatives at his ward meeting. “I do not think it’s safe,” he said.
City Council and the Human Services Committee, spent significant time in 2011 discussing whether and how to dissolve the township. Mr. Bobkiewicz estimated that dissolution would save City taxpayers $500,000 or more. Several aldermen called the Township form of government “obsolete” and “archaic,” especially since the Township’s borders are coterminous with the City’s.
Other aldermen, led by Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, said the Township served a constituency that could not get help elsewhere. Residents at times claimed the City could not deliver the same services, primarily the distribution of public aid and job counseling services, as well as the Township.
Yet another group of aldermen, led by Ald. Wilson, said that while dissolving the Township would save money, Illinois law simply did not allow for dissolution at this time. He urged the City to seek a change in the law through Springfield.
The Township referendum is advisory only, that is, it is non-binding: The City is asking voters whether they think it is a good idea to continue pursuing dissolution.
Aggregation of Electricity
The electricity aggregation referendum question is considerably less controversial, but still requires explanation and voter input. A recent change in Illinois law allows municipalities to negotiate electricity rates for residents and small businesses rather than paying ComEd for power. Under the law, residents can currently achieve the same effect by negotiating on their own, but under aggregation the City negotiates for all. Other communities have achieved significant reductions in power costs though aggregation.
Aggregation also allows the City to purchase from greener power producers. While the energy used to power residents’ lights and refrigerators will still come from coal or nuclear sources, the idea is that Evanston will be buying or “trading for” green power used elsewhere and thereby encourage increased renewable power production. The cost of green power purchased by other communities, such as Oak Park, has been up to 25% lower than ComEd’s current rates.
ComEd will still deliver power, meaning that aggregation will not affect quality of distribution.