What you Missed from Mayor’s Town Hall

Contaminated water, lack of current infrastructure funding and affordable housing plans, future of Harley Clarke, free beach pilot plan and parking meters: a recap of Mayor Hagerty’s Town Hall.

Skip to: James Park Water Contamination Case | Affordable Housing | Robert Crown Project | Harley Clarke | Free NU Beach | New Parking Meters

James Park Water Contamination Case

City sued ComEd and Nicor with claim of methane gas and hazardous contaminants in soil which have become encrusted within and outside of water lines. Federal judge dismissed suit in 2016, said claim was invalid, in part, because City failed to give proper 90-day notice to utility defendants. Federal judge continued case in January 2017.

Resident: Why if utilities cost only $100,000 to replace, would City spend $6 million on legal fees alone
Mayor: City concerned that old Comed facility across Mccormick that ran lines in area left contaminants

  • Confirmed legal fees at $6 million
  • Case is very technical, has been in lawsuit with Comed and Nicor for several years
  • Around James Park, some chemicals tested higher
  • Others have questioned why City would fight against billion-dollar companies
  • Water we drink now is regularly tested and is safe, but worried about future

Affordable Housing / Development

Residents: Said alderperson had stated local businesses had difficulty finding Evanston residents to hire

    • People who take local service jobs, etc. can no longer afford to live here
    • In 2018 Evanston lost almost 7,000 affordable housing units compared to 33 units in 2011
    • City tearing down affordable housing to make room for luxury apartments
    • Doesn’t feel Council is really invested in affordable housing
  • Nothing being accomplished, just setting new meeting dates

Mayor: State mandates 10 percent of housing stock must be affordable. Municipalities not at 10 percent have to have a plan to get there.

    • Doesn’t believe 10 percent not enough to keep socio-economically, racially, ethnically diverse.
    • Council Meets quarterly on affordable housing
    • Council updated inclusionary housing ordinance: Now a developer’s opt-out fee for affordable units is $175,000 to opt out
    • Opt-out fees go to affordable housing fund.
    • City doesn’t have a plan for how to use money in that fund.
    • Recently appointed affordable housing committee to figure that out.
    • Market affects City affordability, what investors are willing to bring to evanston.
    • Residential investors willing to pay more than commercial developers for land downtown
    • If we were just to let market play out everything would be residential, believes we need mixed development, including transit development
  • Condition for sale of library lot is that it will be commercially development. Haven’t had commercial development for a long time.  

Robert Crown Project

Residents: Said they agreed to a $30 million project, no consensus for $53 million project.

    • Asked why all debt was backed on unlimited property tax increases (repayment projected to be $70 million for bonds issued in 2018-19, and up to $90 million including Crown library debt, capital improvement debt from 2015-18)
    • Why was there no referendum (most states require debt backed on unlimited tax increase require voter approval)
    • Why, if public hearing rather than referendum, did City not provide residents with hearing notice (City placed legally mandated classified ad in Chicago Tribune for hearing and flyer at Civic Center, no further public notice prior to hearing date)
    • Asked how residents are supposed to know if Council isn’t telling them
    • Project proponent said he’s very excited to have asset in Evanston, asked for clearer explanation of scale / cost increases from initial $30 million
  • Asked what this means for maintenance of other City infrastructure over next 25 years when debt is repaid, why no development going to 5th ward

Mayor Hagerty: there’s not currently a plan to fund Crown debt service.

    • Has concerns and has voiced them to Council, as has Ald. Fleming.
    • Estimated annual debt cost at $3 million, said $1 million of 2019 GO debt for Crown for bonds issued last year have been built into 2019 budget,
    • In determining next year’s budget we will be back to where we are now, figuring out how we close the deficit gap.
    • Said current center has not been maintained as well as it should have been.
    • Part of cost comes from contingencies so no more cost overruns (City and contractor will split any City overpayment.)
    • City has made a commitment to build Robert Crown, not going to leave up part of a structure.
  • Said Robert Crown has been on Council agenda several times, but notice of public hearing for bond debt not promoted

Options for Debt Repayment

1. Default: Property Taxes

City Manager said the City pledged an unlimited property tax levy to repay Robert Crown project debt, as is done for all general obligation debt.

    • Revenue bonds not presented as option to fund project because there was no way the City could have sold bonds based on Crown’s projected revenue.
  • Over time City will see how much revenue it generates. Council may choose to allocate revenue in excess of operational cost to finance debt. (Currently all excess revenue is earmarked for a long-term Crown maintenance fund)

Mayor said property taxes increased by 2 percent for this year.

    • Only 18 percent of residents’ total tax bill goes to the City, remainder goes to school districts 65 and 202 and other entities.
  • Opted for hearing rather than referendum was not held for residents to vote on City raising debt ceiling so it could sell bonds for Crown financing loan.

City Manager: Revenue bonds not an option provided to Council because operation of center would not generate enough to pay for both operations and pay back debt.

2. Private Funding

Residents: Asked why City broke ground before executing agreements for private funding

    • City has withheld from public the terms of those agreements.
    • Asked why bulk of funding is allocated for debt cost rather than construction cost.
  • Asked why when project cost increased, private funding projections decreased, from $17 million to $12-$15 million.

Mayor: Said no MOU yet with private contributors or Friends of Crown

    • Agreements need to see the light of day, will come to City Council
    • Will be opportunity for public to comment on agreements.
    • Trusts FOC, expects they will deliver $12 million they’ve pledged in fundraising
    • Assistant City Manager is working on LOIs (letters of intent)
    • City ought not give something that is clearly unreasonable away
  • But with current cost of project requires a lot of funding

City Manager: Council will be approving deals with larger entities that are pledging money with the City.

    • Balance will be from FOC;
  • Public will hear update on LOI’s by end of March

3. Service Cuts, Sale of Assets, Potential State Grants

Residents: Residents came in droves to try to save City vital services like victim services, youth services and firestation. Are we going to have to do that every year?

Mayor: City will have to look at assets, look at what’s low-performing and what is not serving community needs.

    • $4 million from sale of library parking lot may finance
    • Increased fees, particularly for parking
  • Would like to see more funding allocated to reduce debt.

City Manager: May find other revenue services, state grants may be made available to help subsidize

Harley Clarke

City Manager: Proposals for future of Harley Clarke will be on Council agenda for Monday

Mayor: Personal opinion is that most viable option is inviting private investment.

    • Potentially keep land, lease building for 99 years
    • Possibly private non-profit, should extend RFP for 12-18 months to provide opportunity and best options
  • Currently boarded

Free Beach at Northwestern

Mayor:  Considering pilot program for a token-free NU beach

  • Not worth getting in legal dispute over whose beach

Resident: Said if going to do a free beach pilot, should be more centrally located

    • Seems this would mostly be a discount for NU students and faculty
  • Would be revenue loss for the City.

New Parking Meters

Resident: New parking meters difficult for disabled

  • Can’t be used with flip phones

Mayor: Parking app will change your life if you have a smart phone

    • Pulling out old meters cost a ton of money, half didn’t work; p
    • new ones will save money,
    • Increased parking fees will help subsidize budget deficit
  • Room there, Evanston parking much cheaper than Chicago