Everything Evanston: City Council Rapid Recap talks proposed plastic bag tax, 5th ward school and ban on cashless businesses

This week, Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap of City Council includes debate about the proposed plastic bag tax, as well as continued plans for the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center and a prohibition on cashless establishments in Evanston. Then, we speak with city reporter Jorja Siemons on Evanston’s new budget for the 2023 fiscal year.


MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison. This is Everything Evanston, a podcast about the people, business and goings-on in Evanston, Illinois. Today, we’re doing a recap of the Jan. 9th City Council meeting. Then we’ll take a look at one of this week’s leading stories in Evanston.

MIKA ELLISON: This week’s council meeting opened with public comment. Many of the participants were small business owners who opposed the recently proposed plastic bag tax. Katherine Gotsick is the executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile, a business district in Evanston. Gotsick said that although she supported the bag tax’s objective to reduce environmental waste, she believes it would be detrimental to small businesses.

KATHERINE GOTSICK: I believe the admin required for this of the businesses is more burdensome than you think it is. Adding any chilling effect on small businesses right now makes the new normal even less tolerable.

MIKA ELLISON: The plastic bag tax would require business owners to charge customers 15 cents for every plastic bag they use.

MIKA ELLISON: Ald. Devon Reid (8th), a proponent of the plastic bag tax, argued that collecting the bag tax would not be a time burden on small businesses. Reid said it would instead have more benefits than drawbacks for Evanston as a whole.

ALD. DEVON REID: It ensures that we’re able to do what we need to do to make our community cleaner, to make sure that we are being leaders on our environmental impact.

MIKA ELLISON: In response to the complaints, Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th) and Ald. Eleanor Revelle (7th) introduced a motion to send the proposed tax back to the Human Services Committee. The council voted to pass the motion by 8-1.


MIKA ELLISON: Another item on the agenda was the continued planning of the new school in the 5th Ward and the rebuilding of the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center. City Engineer Lara Biggs presented four potential construction plans for the 5th ward school, which the council ultimately did not make any decisions on. Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) spoke about a need for urgency regarding the plans.

ALD. BOBBY BURNS: I think we have to make a decision soon about what direction we’re going to take. What is the best way to configure this area so that it truly is good, and good in terms of city plans, but also addresses finally the true needs of the Fifth Ward?

MIKA ELLISON: City Council also voted on introducing a potential ban on cashless establishments in Evanston. This ban would prohibit businesses from refusing to accept cash as payment. This would follow national trends, as it’s similar to legislation passed in cities like San Francisco and New York. Library Equity Consultant Lesley Williams spoke during public comment on behalf of the Community Alliance for Better Government in favor of eliminating cashless businesses.

LESLEY WILLIAMS: The sponsor of the New York ordinance stated that a cashless business model is an expression of institutionalized racism insofar as it disproportionately excludes people of color who tend to have less access to credit and debit and therefore have a diminished ability to purchase goods and services in an increasingly cashless marketplace.

MIKA ELLISON: The Council voted to pass the ordinance for introduction to committee. In other words, it will be on the agenda to be voted on, on Jan. 23.

MIKA ELLISON: Make sure to tune in for the next City Council meeting, the week of January 23, 2023. Up next, Shreya Srinivasan talks to city reporter Jorja Siemons about the recently approved budget for the new fiscal year.


SHREYA SRINIVASAN: I’m Shreya Srinivasan, and we’re going to learn more about a standout story from the City desk this week. City Reporter Jorja Siemons covered Evanston’s newly approved budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

JORJA SIEMONS: Thanks so much for having me on, Shreya and Mika. I’m happy to be here and discuss Evanston’s recently approved budget.

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: So, Jorja, how does this year’s budget compare to last year’s?

JORJA SIEMONS: Evanston’s budget for the 2023 fiscal year has a price tag of more than $397.2 million, which is an uptick of $36 million in city expenses from last year.

JORJA SIEMONS: Just in these numbers alone, we’re seeing a substantial increase in city spending on projects, funds and personnel – the types of things included in a city budget. I spoke with Evanston’s Budget Manager Clayton Black, who walked me through some major contributing factors to this increase. He noted the role of inflation, but he also spoke on the increased funds available for the city to allocate. Evanston received $43 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, and nearly $23 million of that is budgeted to be spent this next fiscal year. Black also cited high returns on taxes that benefit our local economy, like real estate and sales taxes.

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: What are some important budget allocations to know about this year?

JORJA SIEMONS: For residents, there are a few data points to keep in mind. First of all, the budget puts an additional $4.5 million toward public safety pension funds. That means Evanston is on track to 100% funding by 2040. Also, there are 35 new city positions created with this approved budget, including seven new firefighter paramedic positions.

JORJA SIEMONS: Regarding local institutions and funding, this year’s budget allocates $70,000 out of the General Reserve Fund to Shorefront Legacy Center. This local organization collects, preserves and educates the public about Black history on Chicago’s North Shore and in Evanston.

JORJA SIEMONS: Lastly, this past year has been marked by ongoing conversations about reparations in Evanston. The 2023 budget increases the amount of revenues generated by the Real Estate Transfer Tax deposited to the Reparations Fund from $1 million to $3 million. The Fund is currently supporting the city’s Restorative Housing Program, which distributed $25,000 to each of its 16 recipients to be used toward specified housing costs.

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: Why is this story about the budget so important?

JORJA SIEMONS: The city budget is the concrete list of city funding for a fiscal year. But it’s also a document that identifies to residents where city money is going, what it will be used for and who will be receiving it. We’ll see throughout the year that City Council will lean on the budget when making key decisions. We’ll also see residents use it as a tool to hold the city accountable for its proposed projects and goals.

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: Thank you so much, Jorja.

JORJA SIEMONS: No problem!

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: That’s a wrap for this week’s city story. We’ll be back in two weeks for another look at Evanston city politics.


MIKA ELLISON: From The Daily Northwestern, I’m Mika Ellison.

SHREYA SRINIVASAN: And I’m Shreya Srinvasan. Thanks for listening to another episode of Everything Evanston’s Rapid Recap. This episode was reported and produced by me, Mika Ellison, and Jorja Siemons. The audio editor of The Daily Northwestern is Erica Schmitt, the digital managing editors are Joanne Haner and Olatunji Osho-Williams, and the editor-in-chief is Alex Perry.

MIKA ELLISON: Make sure to subscribe to The Daily Northwestern’s podcasts on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or SoundCloud to hear more episodes like this.

Email: [email protected] , [email protected] , [email protected]
Twitter: @MikaEllison23 , @JorjaSiemons

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