Jul 28, 2014
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City Council Passes 2012 Budget, Reduces Pot Penalties

Three noteworthy ordinances passed at Monday night's Evanston City Council meeting.

City Council Passes 2012 Budget, Reduces Pot Penalties

2012 City of Evanston Budget

The Evanston City Council passed the city’s $250 million 2012 budget Monday night with a 6-3 vote.

Aldermen Judy Fisk (1st Ward), Donald Wilson (4th Ward) and Coleen Burrus (9th Ward) voted against the motion.

“I think there were additional areas that we could have cut or reduced,” Burrus said. “I think that’s just one piece of it. The bigger piece for me is that I don’t believe the revenue projections are still on target, and one of the things I’ve wanted, was the city manager suggested $500,000 from the general fund going to capital improvement. I thought that was a good idea, to try to do more pay-as-you-go, and that was taken out.”

Wilson said he disagreed with the way the city’s economic development funding was allotted.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th Ward) said she disagreed with the council’s decision to plug budget holes by increasing city fees on necessities like trash bins, calling the funding a “creeping increase” and a regressive tax. Rainey said that raising taxes across the board would be more fair, and that fees on necessities weigh more heavily on low-income households.

“I feel like this is the worst budget, as opposed to the best budget, in terms of burdening the small person in this community,” Rainey said. “Every time I vote for one of these, it hurts, because I see these people who are having these problems. I’m going to vote for this budget because we’re at this point tonight and some of us haven’t been able to make a difference, in terms of the budget … but I do want us to keep this mind for our next budget. We’ve got to do something.”

Evanston City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the city has been trying to reduce spending as much as possible so that it would not have to raise taxes and fees even more, and that departments citywide will have to become more efficient as they lose staff members in the coming years.

“This has been my third budget,” Bobkiewicz said. “We have laid off over 70 people in the city. We have laid off secretaries in all departments. We have laid off staff in all departments. … Naturally, these are difficult decisions, but I want to let you know that your departments, your staff are going to continue to work to serve the residents of Evanston. … A lot of this work is difficult. We are asking employees to take on new responsibilities. … They have been difficult changes, but they have done it. They have risen to the occasion and I have every confidence.”

At one point, Fiske unsuccessfully attempted to induce a revote on a portion of the budget in order to save the position of a forestry division secretary for whom two citizens had expressed support.

Reduced Marijuana Penalties

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance amending Evanston’s marijuana laws so that any individual found in possession of 10 grams or less of marijuana will not be arrested. Instead, violators will be issued a notice to appear before Evanston’s Division of Administrative Hearings, fined between $50 and $500 and possibly ordered to seek drug counseling.

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has said on previous occasions that she proposed a change to the City Code to prevent local youth from falling into the judicial system and getting permanent records that might prevent them from finding employment.

Several Evanston residents and a James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy lawyer praised the ordinance during a citizen comment portion of the meeting.

Hecky Powell, Evanston resident and owner of Hecky’s Barbeque, said that he often employed young adults who had been unable to find other jobs due to being arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Evanston resident Dickelle Fonda and Northeastern Illinois University student Jersey Hosier said that research they conducted on marijuana arrests in Evanston between Jan. 2008 and Oct. 2009 revealed that black residents were being arrested much more frequently than white residents for possessing small amounts of marijuana

Fonda said she hoped that decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana would lead a revaluation of other city practices that might disproportionately affect minorities.

“I hope that it’s the beginning of a larger discussion and looking at a larger picture of what is happening to certain segments of our population in Evanston,” Fonda said. “I think that when we look at why young people are stopped and where they’re stopped, there are some serious questions that need to be answered.”

But not everyone at the meeting was supportive of the ordinance.

Evanstonian Albert Gibbs said he thought the new law would encourage youth to use drugs.

“I disagree as a person who has come through the trenches of this,” Gibbs said. “As a person that was a drug addict. I smoked marijuana … and then I went onto cocaine and onto some other tremendously heavy drugs. You are doing nothing with this ordinance but telling these kids, ‘get high.’ And that’s just what they’re going to do. And you know why they’re going to do it? Because you’re going to give them a ticket. … You’re police are going to be more busy writing tickets than you can imagine.”

In 2009, Cook County passed a similar ordinance affecting its unincorporated areas, and on Nov. 2, the Chicago City Council proposed a comparable ordinance.

Mandatory Recycling for Electronic Products

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance making it illegal as of Jan. 1, 2012 to dispose of electronic products by simply throwing them in the trash.

The ordinance brings the City Code into compliance with Illinois state law.

Items that now must be recycled include televisions, printers, electronic keyboards, electronic mice, cable receivers, satellite receivers, monitors, facsimile machines, videocassette recorders, digital video disc (DVD) players, digital video disc (DVD) recorders, digital converter boxes, computers (including tablets), scanners, stereo equipment and speakers, portable digital music players, small scale servers, and video game consoles.

According to the ordinance, Evanston residents can recycle electronics at Glenview’s Solid Wasted Agency of Northern Cook County transfer station, or wait for Evanston to host one of its local, biannual electronic product waste collection days.

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