The City Budget appeared briefly on the agenda, but had its own dedicated meeting a week later. The 708 Church Street Tower feinted, dodged and weaved, but slipped away to another meeting as well – Nov. 25. With those two items shifted elsewhere, and the debates on most other items settled, the Nov. 11 City Council meeting became a largely sedate matter.
As an example, Council approved, without debate, the purchase of bulk automotive oils, anti-freeze and lubricants under a one-year contract with Palatine Oil Company. The cost: $60,000. This year’s budget will provide $5,000 of that; the rest will come from the following year. “Exciting,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward. “This is one of the better ones [seen on the agenda].”
Slightly more interesting was the approval of nearly $60,000 in updates and “optimization” for the Accela permits and licensing software package. While on the surface, software updates may not appear interesting, staff initially asked for changes that would have cost the City a cool $450,000. “What brought it down to $60,000?” asked Ald. Rainey.
Director of Community Development Mark Muenzer said the wish list of things that could be changed would have required “lots of man hours,” with someone from the vendor on site. Options allowing residents to apply for permits online were also expensive. Whether Accela financial software is right for the City, given the things it does, the things the City wishes it could do, and the fact that the City has used it for seven years, remains a question Council asks with some regularity.
Change requires significant funding, though. The City “would have to grow the money tree for that one,” said Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward. “Right now we just can’t afford it.”
The expansion of the Howard-Hartrey tax-increment financing (TIF) to include the former Shure Brothers site not only passed without discussion, Council agreed to suspend the rules so it passed immediately.
The original Howard-Hartrey TIF included the shopping plaza on Howard Street, just east of McCormick Boulevard, with a Jewel Food Store, Target, Best Buy and other big box stores. The property immediately behind it was formerly occupied by Shure Brothers, which relocated to Skokie several years ago. Vineyard Christian Fellowship now occupies the west portion of the property. Autobarn will now have the remainder.
“This all has to do with Autobarn and the 222 Hartrey [former Shure Brothers] property,” said Ald. Rainey.
Because the tax increment – the difference between the property as it went into the TIF and as it is improved – can be used by the City for projects within the TIF, the City is now free to shower TIF funds upon Autobarn’s proposed expansion from its Chicago Avenue locations into the Shure site. The 23-year-old TIF is set to expire next year. Whatever remains in the fund may go to the new Autobarn site, and then the TIF will retire, having done its job.
City, Township and Library tax levies were approved, but not without opposition. Alderman Coleen Burrus, 9th Ward, joined Ald. Rainey in voting against the Library’s levy. Both were long opposed to the Library becoming an independent taxing entity – which occurred just last year. The City and Library have not yet fully established which services will be integrated, which remain discrete and what the budget ramifications will be of the City’s providing some services, such as payroll. Library autonomy is a work in progress, and residents can expect changes as the concept takes hold. One change no one expects: support for the Library from aldermen Rainey and Burrus.
The night was calm enough for Council to discuss the City’s banner policy, a perennial agenda item but one often shunted aside when more pressing matter crowd the agenda. “Thank you for taking this issue up,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. “It is a very important one.”
At issue are banners on light poles around the City advertising things such as a St. Francis anniversary or the McGaw YMCA. No more. The new policy limits banners to those touting City-sponsored events or to City-funded banners. Banners will only be allowed May 1 – Oct. 31, for six months maximum. And main arteries, such as Ridge or Green Bay, will have no banners whatsoever.
Council members breathed a sigh of relief that the issue was behind them and moved on to a more pressing matter – the rotating banner sign in Grey Park at Ridge Avenue and Main Street. “We need to address this. It looks really, really bad,” said Ald. Burrus.
City staff “will take this specific issue, Grey Park, and come back to you at a future meeting,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. Perhaps Grey Park signage will take over as the agenda item most likely to be punted now that the banner conundrum appears to be behind us. Time will tell.