Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Evanston questions need for township

Patricia Vance came to the annual Evanston Township meeting April 9 expecting to give a simple report on the township’s status.

She ended up presiding over a marathon debate.

Vance, entering her second year as township supervisor, was “totally shocked” by the discussion over a head tax proposal that erupted.

“It was interesting, that’s all I can say,” she said. “Did I expect to be there two-and-a-half hours? No.”

The head tax referendum and a motion to abolish the position of the assessor brought the township’s authority to the forefront of Evanston politics. The April 9 meeting left lingering questions about the power of the township – and what effect either proposal could have on its future.

Residents and city officials have argued over the ability of the township to place a referendum for a head tax on November’s ballot. Ald. Arthur Newman (1st) said Tuesday it was “probably doubtful” that such a proposal will go that far.

But for Vance and other township officials, the day-to-day workings of the township have little to do with such issues.

The township sits on the same area as the city of Evanston. Its existence is required by Illinois law, but to many, that existence remains an anomaly.

The township’s primary job is to provide assistance for Evanston’s poorest residents, using money from the General Assistance Fund, Vance said. This lets the township achieve goals the city cannot.

“It’s basically the welfare system,” Vance said. “And the city cannot tax for that.”

The township also has the power to provide other social services, though it now has little money to do so because the state has set a limit on the taxes the township can collect, Vance said.

“The township is kind of limited in what it can get done,” she said.

Vance might have been “shocked” by what happened April 9, but she can at least find relief that no one threatened her job. The same cannot be said for the township’s other elected official, Sharon Eckersall, township assessor. The residents in attendance at the meeting voted to recommend her position be abolished permanently.

The approval of 10 percent of all voters in Cook County is necessary to actually remove her position, a difficult task, Eckersall said.

“It’s something that would be totally impossible to do,” she said. “I’m not worried at all. I’ve got the law in my favor.”

Though the assessor’s office does not actually determine property values, it provides valuable assistance to Evanston residents who want to appeal assessments of their houses and understand the tax system better, said Diane Benjamin, deputy township assessor.

“I get young people in here, old people in here who do not understand the workings of the tax system,” Benjamin said. “Each taxpayer, each homeowner needs to be the captain of his own ship.”

Benjamin said that residents are eligible for certain credits that would reduce the value of their homes for tax-collecting purposes, thus lowering their taxes. Senior citizens are eligible for an additional credit.

Representatives from the assessor’s office make house calls, Benjamin said. In one case, they visited a wheelchair-bound woman with diabetes whose property value was soaring. By helping the woman take certain credits, they were able to cut her property taxes in half this year, as well as reclaim extra taxes paid in past years.

“Man alive, is she ever going to get refunds,” Benjamin said.

Benjamin also defended Eckersall’s credentials.

“She has more degree certifications than a thermometer has numbers,” Benjamin said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Evanston questions need for township