Mayor Stephen Hagerty delivers the State of the City address. Photo by Genie Lemieux, Evanston Photographic Studios

At his annual state of the City address March 8 at the Hilton Orrington, Mayor Stephen Hagerty highlighted the City’s many achievements over the past year, including expanded water sales, a renovated Fountain Square, and  a start on the long anticipated Robert Crown Community Center.

All in all, the City “got a lot done,” in 2018, Mr. Hagerty said.

He also told his audience of close to 300 people that the year was a challenging one.

“We went through a difficult budget process that required tough decisions  and shared sacrifices,” Mayor Hagerty  said. “If you drove here this morning and paid for street parking you shared in some of the sacrifice,” he said, referring to meter rate hikes and the end of free Sunday parking, which went into effect March 1. “If  you didn’t pay for parking and you get a ticket, you’ll share even more. Don’t worry – it’s for a good cause.”

Some of the achievements the mayor highlighted included:

• A Class 1 Fire Protection Rating for the Evanston Fire Department, placing it in the top one percent of all fire departments in the United States;

• The distinction of being the first city in Illinois to target 100% renewable electricity for all properties by 2030 by adopting the Climate Action and Resilience Plan and

• Expansion of water sales to other communities.

“There has been tremendous progress in expanding the number of water customers we serve. This year, Lincolnwood will become the 10th community to purchase Evanston water. Just before New Year’s, we turned on the valve supplying Niles and Morton Grove, which will generate more than half a million dollars a year for our City budget,” the Mayor said.

“In 2018, we delivered more than 15 billion gallons of fresh, clean drinking water – that’s “billion” with a “b” – to Evanston and neighboring communities,” he added.

The completed Fountain Square project gave the City “one  of the most active downtown spaces on the North Shore, with outdoor fitness classes, concerts, events, and the final and most important ingredient: water, the Mayor said.

The City is moving forward on a brand new Robert Crown Community Center and Library at Main Street and Dodge Avenue – a project that “has been a vision of our community for more than a decade,” he said.

 “It’s true that the project will require … a significant ongoing investment from our City,” said Mayor Hagerty, answering criticism raised by some residents about the project’s heavy debt load. “It may mean reallocating City assets, which we’re going to take a look at. But it’s an investment that will pay dividends for decades to come for residents and families.”

The Mayor said when the facility opens later this year, the Center will provide early childhood education programming, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, and a branch library, all under one roof.  It will provide the City of Evanston with its first public turf athletic fields. “It will replace our City’s most run-down community center with its crown jewel,” he said.

The City’s budget challenges, “are real, and they’re not going away in the near future. We can say the same for our state. Our sales tax revenue is stagnant, and has been for some time with the rise of online shopping,” Mayor Hagerty said. “Building permit revenue is expected to be $5 million less than it was in 2016 due to a natural slowdown in construction on Northwestern’s campus.

“Property taxes are burdening homeowners, landlords and renters, and homeowners will be mailed updated County assessments next week, which may bring significant change. We can address these challenges but it will require courage and conviction.”

He pointed to the City’s tax on rideshare as one possible approach.

 “That tax is expected to generate close to $700,000 this year, providing a new revenue stream in line with the new economy to make up for stagnant or declining revenues in other areas,” he said.

“We also became the first Illinois community to adopt a graduated Real Estate Transfer Tax, which is anticipated to generate additional revenue in the coming years on large, multi-million-dollar real-estate transactions,” Mayor Hagerty said.

The Mayor still holds hopes on some other long sought projects coming to fruition. “I want a performing arts theater in downtown Evanston,” said the Mayor, mentioning Northlight Theatre, which has been eyeing a spot in recent years.

He said other projects include a modernized CTA Purple Line, a community “that doesn’t talk about equity and empowerment, but practices it in all facets of its decision making” and a community “that does more to provide holistic, integrated mental health services to address the mental health crisis in the community, particularly among our young people.”

At the start of  the program, the Mayor noted that the event – hosted by the Evanston Chamber of Commerce, with NorthShore University HealthSystem the presenting sponsor – fell on International Women’s Day.

He asked women leaders in politics, business and other areas in the audience to stand up and receive acknowledgement.

For  the first time in Evanston history, all five state representatives  for the District are women, he noted. On the Evanston City Council, women make up six of the nine aldermanic seats.

“I can think of no better visual of progress than the leaders standing here today,” he said.

A full text of the Mayor’s prepared remarks and a video of the speech can be found on the City’s web site, cityofevanston.org