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City Council met twice in the last two weeks, with a March 16 meeting covering special orders of business and announcements, followed by a regular meeting March 23. The March 16 meeting covered primarily utilities issues.

Kevin Lookis of the City’s Water Department introduced the “Neptune IQ” online water customer web portal, allowing customers to track water usage closely via a new website tied to individual water meters. The system allows for alerts such as leak alarms should usage spike unexpectedly.

“Can you track your neighbor’s [water usage]?” asked Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th ward, as a way of “benchmarking” residential usage. Only if a neighbor provides you access, responded Mr. Lookis.

A lengthy garbage disposal discussion followed.  A surprise in the presentation came with a Groot proposal to buy the dormant recycling center and turn it into a waste transfer station. “Over my dead body will Groot own that Recycling Center,” said Ald. Rainey, whose ward includes the site. “Over my dead body,” she repeated. “When did they put in a proposal to buy and why didn’t I get notice?”

“The Groot offer was unsolicited,” said City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons.

Groot is looking for a 10-year contract extension, and a decision is due by April 30. The good news is that the solid waste fund is no longer operating at a deficit.

At the March 23 meeting, City Council voted to introduce a 6% tax on medical marijuana cultivators. The state imposes a 7% tax right now. The tax will attach when cultivators sell to a distribution center in Evanston. Evanston will then be permitted to add another tax on the sale of marijuana from the distribution center to the customer. The measure comes up for final vote April 13.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th ward, asked if 6% was a state imposed tax. No, answered Paul Zalmazek of the City’s Economic Development Department, the City could tax “the medicine” at a higher rate.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, asked if a portion of the medical marijuana tax could be earmarked specifically for workforce development. “We’ll study it and get back to you,” answered Grant Farrar, the City’s Corporation Counsel.

Counting tax revenue at this point is highly speculative. “We do not expect them to begin operating until the fall,” said City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz. Plants must be given time to grow.

“Can proceeds be deposited into the bank?” asked Ald. Braithwaite. If not, how will the City track revenue for tax purposes, he asked.

“Will we be collecting this tax in cash?” asked Alderman Jane Grover, 7th ward, taking it a step further.

“Once again, the City of Evanston is on the cutting edge,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. The City will have the “opportunity to collect” based on accountings provided by the dispensary “and we will do that accordingly.”

The issue raises more questions than answers. “This is a pilot program – by its very terms,” said Mr. Farrar.” The answers will be sorted out as the program rolls out.

A new special service tax area may be coming to the Dempster-Chicago and Main-Chicago business districts. Council voted to convene a public hearing proposing the SSA, which would use funds collected to make the areas more pedestrian-friendly and promote local businesses.

 The City’s zoning code will soon permit firing ranges, and gun shops only within those firing ranges, as a special use in limited industrial-zones areas in the City. A distance requirement limits the possible locations even further, requiring firing ranges to be at least 350 feet from schools, parks, and daycare facilities. Efforts to extend the distance even further failed, as Mr. Farrar said a greater distance requirement would operate as a “de facto ban” and subject the City to costly litigation.

Changes to the code were necessitated by the state’s Conceal-Carry law, a law required by federal court decisions. Under the constitution, said Mr. Farrar, citizens have a fundamental and protected right to possess firearms.

Epic Burger was introduced as a type 2 restaurant in the former Lululemon site. “it’s as healthy a twist as you can get on the burger and fries,” said Aaron Langguth of Epic Burger.

“You know you join a lot of burgers in Evanston,” said Ald. Grover, referencing Edzo’s, DMK, and Five Guys among others.

Evanston was “actually number one on our target list,” said Mr. Langguth. Burgers and fries are the top-selling food items, and “there’s room for many of them [restaurants] to be successful.”