Aldermen raise Evanston debt ceiling

Susan Du

Evanston aldermen voted Monday to raise the city’s debt ceiling and authorized the adoption of an injured K-9 police dog.

Aldermen also debated establishing new speed limits in the 9th Ward during their weekly city council meeting at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center.

Council members voted 6-2 in favor of raising Evanston’s tax-supported general obligation debt limit from $90 million to $113 million, which is expected to cover the city’s debt over the next five years. Alds. Coleen Burrus (9th) and Donald Wilson (4th) voted against the resolution, arguing the city should spend money responsibly and decrease its current debt.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) was not present at Monday’s meeting.

According to the fiscal year 2012 proposed budget, Evanston “reclaimed its AAA ranking from Moody’s and maintained its AAA ranking from Fitch.” Despite having made strides to remedy the city’s economic troubles, Ald. Burrus said she feels there is no reason to increase the debt limit when Evanston’s debt-to-asset ratio is still “very high” at 3.63 percent.

“We’ve made the decision to not borrow as much per year but we’re still taxing and spending and borrowing and spending, and we need to live within our means,” Burrus said. “We need to continue to look seriously at our debt. We just can’t keep getting the credit card out when we need something.”

Aldermen voting in favor of raising the limit cited the need for maintaining general operations and allowing for the possibility of borrowing additional funds in case of an unexpected emergency.In further discussions, Burrus introduced a proposed ordinance to establish a 20 mph speed limit and to repave the road on Oakton Street between Dodge and Ridge Avenues in the 9th Ward.

Citing the discomfort current traffic poses to the school and residential neighborhood in the area, Burrus said she is “grasping at straws to get relief” for her constituents.

“I’ve become frustrated with the problems on Oakton,” she said. “We have major truck traffic, we have speeding and we have three schools. We have a major park. They’ve been trying to find ways to mitigate the traffic and the noise – the rumbling of the trucks that are cracking walls and the windows in the houses – we’ve not been able to find the solution.”

Burrus estimated paving the stretch of road in question would cost $1.7 million, and she said she hopes Oakton would be at the top of the list in the city’s upcoming road paving discussions.

However, Wilson disagreed that implementing a new speed limit will likely solve the area’s traffic woes.

“We can all sympathize to some extent with that problem,” he said. “One of my reservations is that implementing this speed limit on a 24-hour basis is going to push a disproportionate amount of that problem onto the other streets that are already suffering from the same problem.”

Wilson said Burrus may have greater success solving Oakton’s problems by prioritizing enforcement of existing speed limits and updating infrastructure. The aldermen will revisit the issue in two weeks.

On a lighter note, council members unanimously supported authorizing the sale of a retired EPD K-9 dog to his former handler, Officer Ted Schienbein. The dog had previously worked with the Evanston Police Department for seven years until the end of 2011, when he was forced into retirement after suffering an injury and a bacterial infection in his hips.

Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), who had personally worked with animal care groups and businesses in the past, lauded Schienbein and the EPD for showing “incredible devotion” to the dog.

“He had been a part of the police force and so rather than euthanizing him, his handler decided to adopt him, which is wonderful,” she said. “That’s what we really like to see and it means (Schienbein) will take care of him and his upkeep for the rest of his life.”

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