At the Aug. 31 City Council meeting,  Council members and other City officials said farewell to City Parks Director Joe McCrae. Photo from the City of Evanston

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Evanston said a very public goodbye to one of its favorite public servants on Aug. 31. Director of Parks Joseph McRae is leaving the City to return to his home state of Ohio, where he will become the Director of Parks for the City of Cleveland Heights. Mr. McRae’s last day will be Sept. 11.

 City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz choked up as he said “I have had no greater honor than working with Joe McRae.” When Mr. Bobkiewicz came to Evanston in 2008, Mr. McRae was Assistant to the City Manager. In 2010, Mr. Bobkiewicz tagged Mr. McRae to develop and implement the City’s 311 system which Mr. Bobkiewicz said has “become the backbone of our entire organization.”

 “It has been a tremendous honor and a privilege to serve this community,” said Mr. McRae. “I have loved every day of working here – every day, from the moment I started working [in Evanston].” He thanked Mr. Bobkiewicz and former City Manager Rolanda Russell, “who saw something in me.”

Each member of Council, Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, and City Clerk Rodney Greene all took a moment to praise Mr. McRae.

“You are the quintessential public servant,” said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, in a representative comment. “But if there’s a level above [quintessential], you are there.” She also suggested that a tape of the meeting be sent to Cleveland Heights.

The departure of Mr. McRae, and the recent departure of Suzette Robinson, created a “deep void I want you [City Council and City Manager] to put on your plates and ask you to pay attention to,” said Rev. Patricia Efiom of Ebeneezer A.M.E. Church. Mr. McRae and Ms. Robinson are both black, and after Sept. 11 only a single black director-level employee will remains at the City, Health and Human Services Director Evonda Thomas-Smith. Rev. Efiom urged the City to continue to talk and address issues and to remain aware of feelings and perceptions within the community as a whole.

Next came a 2016 budget-preparation update. “The state still has no budget,” said Mr. Bobkiewicz. Evanston could no longer wait for the state to act, and must move ahead to create a 2016 budge, he added.

Budget Director Ashley King said the budget would come forward with two possible scenarios in proposed budgets – one with $1.5 million in cuts from the state, and another with $500,000 in cuts from state distributions. These cuts will likely come from a cut to income tax distribution discussed by Governor Bruce Rauner, and another is an anticipated property tax freeze, said Ms. King.

A property tax freeze may exempt police and fire expenditures, Ms. King added. The City is proposing a separate police and fire fund, which would include pension contributions. This separate fund would “help us in the future if we decide we need to increase property taxes,” said Ms. King.

The City is considering revenue sources outside of property taxes. Sales tax and liquor tax collections are expected to increase, said Ms. King, but telecommunications taxes tied to landline and other phone bills will likely decrease. Overall, though the City expects about $220,000 more in 2015 than 2016 from sales, liquor and telecom tax revenues.

 City Chief Financial Officer Marty Lyons said building permit fees anticipated in 2015 are likely to arrive in 2016.

Council then agreed to approve the budget calendar, after canceling the citizen input session originally scheduled for Sept. 23, the last day of Yom Kippur. The budget will come to Council on Oct. 9, and Council hopes to adopt the budget and tax levy by Nov. 23.

The clearwell repair project for the water plant passed without any further discussion and on the consent agenda.

The measure was held in Council at the Aug. 17 meeting over concerns caused by staff’s rejection of a $300,000 bid and acceptance of a $350,000 bid. Staff rejected the $300,000 bid because the contractor asked for waiver from the City’s local employment program (LEP). At the Aug. 31 meeting, Council accepted the low bid with the assurance that staff will work with the contractor to comply with the LEP, according to the staff memo.