A staff memo proposing that taxes collected on waste transferred through the Church Street waste transfer station be split between the City’s general fund and a capital project fund fell flat at the May 24 City Council meeting. Council voted instead to hold the matter pending input from the community nearest the station.
“Number one, to have this on the agenda before we’ve had community meetings is a little bit disconcerting for me,” said Alderman Delores Holmes, whose Fifth Ward shares the station’s most impacted areas with the Second Ward.
Ald. Holmes immediately moved to hold the proposal, which would have allocated $500,000 of the more than $1.26 million to the City’s General Fund, in part due to the “ongoing uncertainty of the State of Illinois’ financial situation …” The remaining $763,248 would go to the Capital Projects Fund for use in and around the immediately impacted area.
Several years ago, the City passed an ordinance establishing a tax on waste transferred through the station. Advanced Disposal, then owned by Veolia, filed a lawsuit against Evanston challenging the law. In February, Council voted to settle the lawsuit after hearing that chances were at least fair that the suit could be lost.
As part of the settlement, Advanced Disposal agreed to allow the City to retain the tax collected to date, and then to pay a much lower “hosting fee” – $0.75 per ton rather than the $2 per ton in the original ordinance. The question posed at Monday’s meeting was what to do with the more than $1 million collected and sitting in Evanston coffers.
The staff memo, written by City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz and Assistant to the City Manager Kimberly Richardson, said, “Direct costs to the City for defending the [lawsuit] total approximately $1,195. However, the City’s Law Department litigated the defense of this case in-house, thereby avoiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside legal fees to the City. It is estimated that thousands of hours can be attributed to the Advanced Disposal litigation, given the six staff attorneys that worked on the case, the extensive motion practice and hearings, and settlement negotiations. …
“Given the costs to the City General Fund for litigation of this matter [and lack of a State budget], staff recommends that a portion of these fees be deposited back to the General Fund.” The portion: $500,000.
The memo listed possible projects in the area, including enhancing the newly opened Gibbs Morrison Cultural Center, buying land to create a parking lot for Gibbs Morrison, improving Mason Park’s athletic fields, and expanding Mason Park.
Mr. Bobkiewicz’s memo also offered the suggestions of the Environment Board’s Environmental Justice subcommittee. Those suggestions focused on data gathering and environmental monitoring of the garbage that circulates into and out of Evanston through the transfer station.
Ald. Holmes was not persuaded. “I thought when we were doing the [Advanced Disposal settlement] agreement that was one of the things that was said very clearly to us from the residents – that they would like some input.”
Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, agreed. “I did make the recommendation to staff that we have a neighborhood meeting and it’s very concerning” that the matter appeared on the agenda before a meeting could take place. There are many interested residents beyond those on the Environment Board, he added, and all residents should have a voice at a community meeting. The legal department should have a representative there as well, he said.
Others expressed a flat disagreement with earmarking any portion of the funds for anything other than improvements in and around the directly affected areas.
“These are impact fees,” said Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, “so all along it was my expectation that they would be used in the impacted area… I don’t want to see it deviate from that.”
“I also agree these are impact fees,” said Alderman Brian Miller, 9th Ward. “I don’t think we should be reimbursing the General Fund for supposed expenses.” Saying the City saved money by not hiring an outside law firm does not justify using impact fees for anything other than the community, he said.
With Ald. Braithwaite’s second, the proposal will be held until after community meetings have been held.