As recently as Feb. 19, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz warned City Council of an upcoming budget crisis, calling on Council to “begin these reductions now if we’re going to be able to grapple” with budgetary needs looming in the near future. Apparently, the need to grapple will come – but it was not apparent at the Feb. 26 City Council meeting, when aldermen approved another wave of expenditures without even the briefest discussion of their budgetary impact.
First came the purchase of eight new sport utility vehicles at a total cost just short of $240,000. Five vehicles being replaced are model year 2015, with mileage ranging from about 71,000 to 55,000. “The replacement of these vehicles is crucial for safe, reliable, environmentally friendly, and cost-effective operations,” wrote the staff memo.
At Administration and Public Works, there was not a peep from any of the members, who apparently simply took the staff report unquestioningly and voted unanimously to approve the expenditure. At the City Council meeting later that evening, the matter passed on the Consent Agenda without question or comment. The evening was off to a rapid start, though there was no sign of any grappling with impending budget crises.
Service Center Parking Deck Repairs
The committee members next turned to a contract for repairs to and restoration of the Service Center parking deck. The City’s Service Center, nestled on Ashland Avenue between Green Bay Road and Ridge Avenue, houses many of the City’s larger trucks. “In Spring 2017, Staff found pieces of concrete had fallen from a structural member of the” parking deck, wrote staff members in a memo to Council. The City then hired an engineer to “assess the entire parking deck” and “provide construction documents for bidding the construction of necessary repairs.”
Bidding documents included a base bid, plus two additional alternate projects to go along with the immediately necessary repair project. Council accepted staff’s recommendation – accepting the bid plus two alternate projects, plus added ComEd work “within a high voltage ComEd vault.” The base bid was about $476,000, and the total cost was more than $526,000.
Again, the Committee uttered not a sound other than to vote “yes,” moving the measure to Council, where it passed on the consent agenda.
Lovelace Park Tennis Courts
Lovelace Park, in far northwest Evanston, was the next area to receive significant City funds – and again, no one on Council offered even a single question about the necessity of the project, the timing, or the supposed budget crunch the City faces. Instead, first the A&PW Committee, then the Council as a whole, simply accepted and approved the staff recommendations placed before them.
The first Lovelace project, checking in at $107,000, was the Lovelace Park Pond Renovation project. “At Lovelace Park, the walkway and amenities surrounding the pond have experienced significant deterioration. Over time, repeated flooding of the pond has caused winter frost heaving, damaging the area adjacent to the pond,” wrote staff. Once again, there was no discussion and no “grappling.” The measure passed on the consent agenda.
Tennis courts were next. According to the staff memo, the U.S. Tennis Association delivered the City notice these courts “are not in acceptable condition for league play.” The entire court must be milled off, new asphalt laid, and, “Layers of textured acrylic colored surfacing would be applied,” and the fence replaced. .
The tennis court repair was not in the City’s immediate plans. “While not budgeted in 2018, funding for this proposed will be provided from the Capital Improvement Program 2018 GO Bonds….” The aldermen were once again completely silent. No one asked about the other budgetary needs being displaced by Lovelace tennis courts. Instead, the Committee, then full Council on the consent agenda, simply rubber-stamped staff’s recommendation.
Other Recent Expenditures
These projects join other recent, unquestioned large expenditures such as the Gibbs-Morrison $380,000 patio and the near $300,000 Dempster beach office.
The Committee did find time to comment on the Fleetwood-Jourdain interior renovation design project. “It’s a very special project the Mayor helped facilitate,” said Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th ward. Designs 4 Dignity, a non-profit organization specializing in designing spaces for other non-profits, will leverage donations and meet with the community to design a new facility.
The renovations themselves will be at least partially covered by $325,000 from the Northwestern “Good Neighbor Fund,” $1-million-a-year contribution for five years toward projects jointly selected by Evanston’s mayor and the University president. Council allocated $35,000 for the initial design phase.
The item receiving the most discussion may have been ordinances having to do with liquor. Evanston’s code of ordinances lists some 29 (class Z actually has four subparts, so technically 32) different classifications of liquor licenses, yet 29 is not enough. The Feb. 26 agenda brought two more proposed licenses – the Class X and the Class F-2.
“The City of Evanston’s [liquor code] does not have [an] annual liquor license tailored to arts-and-crafts studios that allow for the sale of beer and wine for on-site consumption,” wrote staff. When the owners of Little Beans sought to open such a new business, it presented “an opportunity to create a new liquor license classification, which is something near and dear to my heart,” quipped Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar.
The business model, said Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, is basically, “You get a piece of wood, carve it and shellac it,” then have a drink. The license will cost $1,500 initially, and $1,500 per year thereafter.
Next came the Binny’s application.. “I think this is different from the others, and I think we should charge more,” said Ald. Rainey. Staff suggested $40,000 initially, and $13,000 a year thereafter – costs that match the largest grocery store license, the F-1, for the Green Bay Whole Foods that includes on-site consumption. Ald. Rainey said the Binny’s license, an F-2, should cost $45,000 initially and $15,000 a year thereafter.
“How is this different from Whole Foods?” asked Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, 5th Ward.
“It’s not a grocery store. It’s a liquor store,” said Ald. Rainey. The City will require Binny’s to sell some cheeses and some gourmet foods, but “their primary focus is liquor.
At about this moment, Alderman Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, who is not on the A&PW committee, stepped forward to ask, “Did you know that Binny’s asked that this matter not be heard tonight?”
Mr. Farrar said Binny’s wanted some changes to the food items provisions in section 4, which currently reads “A Class F-2 licensee must offer for sale fine cheeses, deli and gourmet food products, related accessories, baked goods or cereal grains, charcuterie, canned, refrigerated or frozen prepared food products, books and magazines, or dry goods such as stemware or glasses.”
Ald. Rainey’s quest to add $2,000 per year in added Binny’s license fees will have to wait until the list of required food items has been worked out, as the committee agreed to the hold request.