Council douses Reid’s call for fire service fee for certain non-taxpaying entities – like Northwestern

By Bob Seidenberg

Evanston City Council members have applied the brakes for now on a proposal that would require large non-property-tax-paying owners – most notably Northwestern University – to pay a fire service/utility fee for the service they now receive for free.

During their session on Monday, Nov. 27, council members failed to give a second to Eighth Ward Council Member Devon Reid’s request to push ahead discussion of his proposal to next August.

Several did agree, though, that a larger, more comprehensive discussion of the subject was needed.

“Northwestern isn’t the only game in town,” Second Ward Council Member Krissie Harris said, “and I do think we need to have a conversation where we sit down with all the not-for-profits and talk about our non-property-tax-paying organizations to say, ‘Everybody has to carry their weight.’ I know Northwestern is a hot button topic in Evanston, but it’s everybody. Everybody has to do their share and have everybody at the table is the most appropriate way to do that.”

Reid suggested the city’s Finance Department be responsible for billing and collecting the additional revenue the fee would bring in. The additional revenue, under his proposal, would be used exclusively for fire protection services, such as training and equipment.

With expenditures outpacing revenues, Evanston faces a structural deficit moving forward, Reid said.

“So we have to figure out a way to bring down that structural deficit over the next few years,” he told council members. “We may not have to figure it out this year; although the sooner we figure it out the better position we are in. And for decades and potentially even a century folks have been calling for Northwestern and other large nonprofit institutions to pay their fair share for services they utilize in the city of Evanston.”

Polep: Fee might disincentive a call

Fire Chief Paul Polep, invited to share his perspective, said that while he did appreciate the need to explore ways to bring in more income, he fundamentally disagreed with charging a fire service fee because “I don’t ever want anybody to feel that ‘I’m not going to call 911 because I might be charged.’”

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