With three aldermen in Washington, D.C., for the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference, the dais appeared sparsely occupied. With an agenda devoid of special orders of business and a campaign season – such as it is – in full swing, a calm set over Council Chambers March 11.

Business did not stop however and Council authorized or spent large chunks of money on a number of expensive projects. At the same time, Council received relatively good news on the budget.

The expensive projects started with a pre-project expenditure. HVAC improvements are known to be expensive and complex. Improvements to the police/fire headquarters building, the Levy Center and the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center are expected to be so complex that the City needs a consultant, dbHMS, to provide design work. The cost: nearly $73,000. Council approved the expenditure without discussion.

Next, Council authorized the payment of almost $344,000 to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for the disposal of sludge generated in the water purification process. As the City’s water pumps pull in water from Lake Michigan, impurities are trapped and settle out forming a sludge. The sludge is then manually washed out of traps and sent to MWRD for treatment. The cost of disposal varies – in 2012, the City estimated it would owe about $472,000, but then got hit with a “true up” payment of another $490,000 due to more sludge caused by storms that roiled up the lake bottom. The bottom line: the $344,000 authorized may be just the beginning. The estimated amount owed was set by the MWRD.

The City’s Payment and Licensing Software package (PAL) will cost Evanston $128,000 in licensing fees in 2013. The good news is the cost represents a 2.2 percent reduction over 2012’s fee. The bad news is that there is no practical alternative, and 2013 will be year seven of a 10-year contract. The staff memo indicates the City plans to try and get more use out of the PAL system in 2013.
Money spent, Council examined an unaudited financial report detailing actual revenue and expenditures in 2012.

According to the numbers, the City actually fared better than expected, generating about $1.4 million more than anticipated. Real estate transfer taxes, distribution from the state for income taxes, and building permits fees all came in over budget. Ald. Rainey said the numbers showed that the economy may be getting better. Audited numbers should appear around June.

Electricity aggregation will be returning soon. When the City entered into an aggregation agreement with Constellation, the contract term was one year. It is approaching time to go back into the market to negotiate a new deal. Members of Citizens for a Greener Evanston appeared to encourage the continuation of 100 percent renewable energy. Further, CGE asked that the City try to get efficiency projects as part of a negotiated deal.

A proposed boxing studio on Main Street near Sherman caused the most debate of the night. The studio, which will go into a vacant storefront next to the City-owned parking lot, rekindled animus toward another exercise studio nearby. Revolution Spin, on Sherman just north of the intersection, has prompted numerous complaints about noise.

Two residents spoke out against the boxing studio voicing concerns about a repeat. But Alderman Don Wilson, whose 4th Ward contains both storefronts, received assurances from the boxing studio owner that noise would not be a problem. With that assurance, the proposal was introduced and will be voted on shortly.