Elgin council approves 2014 budget, moves along senior housing redevelopment — by same 6-3 margin
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org @DanaheyECN December 19, 2013 12:26AM
Artist’s drawings show the latest elevations for the Elgin Housing Authority’s Central Park towers renovation project. | Photo courtesy of Elgin Housing Authority
Updated: January 21, 2014 6:19AM
ELGIN — By identical 6-3 votes, the city council approved its 2014 budget and moved forward plans for redevelopment of the Central Park Towers site on Route 31.
Voting in favor of both measures were Mayor Dave Kaptain and council members Rich Dunne, Anna Moeller, Tish Powell, Carol Rauschenberger and John Steffen. Voting against both were Councilmen Terry Gavin, John Prigge and Toby Shaw.
The $280 million spending plan came with a few modifications to its funds since its initial early November unveiling.
Those included $203,000 to keep Wing Park pool open and an anticipated $200,000 in pool revenues, and $40,000 not being spent on yard waste collection bags. The pool needs repairs, and apparently the plan now will be to open the pool July 1. And the city no longer will subsidize the bags that residents in certain neighborhoods are required to use.
Gavin claimed the budget did not go far enough to provide tax and fee relief for Elginites, but conceded inroads have been made to that effect.
Shaw said he supported most of what was in the plan. He noted that if and when spending cuts are made, the council — and residents — face tough decisions about “what we expect and what we provide.”
Rauschenberger called the budget “conservative but not sparing.”
Powell reminded that the city’s budgets consistently have been earning Elgin AAA bond ratings, which puts the city in a better financial position that most towns.
Dunne said the budget is a “plan not a commitment to spend.”
Steffen said he had not heard viable plans on what to cut from those opposed to the budget.
Kaptain noted that the city will have financial considerations facing it down the road, including how the Affordable Care Act will impact the city, upcoming union contracts, and unfunded liabilities such as helping Elginites in need after recent cuts in the federal food stamp program.
Still, the votes were unanimous in approval for ordinances for the levy and assessment of taxes, and establishing fees for various city services, permits, licenses and user fees.
Moeller found this ironic and said it showed that Gavin, Prigge and Shaw wanted to have it both ways.
Shaw said the council missed an opportunity to at the very least send a message by making some small cuts in the plan.
Most fees in the 2014 budget are at or near what they are this year, while the tax levy is set to be $26.3 million, slightly less than the $26.5 million estimated to be taken in by the current levy.
The council moved forward a map amendment and planned development for the Housing Authority of Elgin’s redevelopment of Central Park Towers and an adjacent old mansion it now owns.
The council in October had tabled the HAE request after hearing from residents concerned about parking, building design, density and traffic from the project.
HAE Director Damon Duncan said the authority has held six community meetings since, including one Dec. 10 at The Centre downtown, and that the design for the building has gone through five modifications. The plan has been in the works for more than a year, and has gone through processes to qualify for how the $25 million project will be funded.
Further delays could jeopardize that funding, Duncan said.
Work would be funded by a combination including Illinois Housing Development Authority tax credits issued to attract private investors and Department of Housing and Urban Development money. HAE is considering naming the building after Bob Gilliam, the former city councilman who served on the HAE board for 30 years.
The 11-story housing tower at 120 S. State St. (Route 31) for those 50 and over has not been renovated since it went up in 1969, Duncan said. A planned second building with six-story and four-story sections would stand where the home is. That home has been split into eight apartments.
Efficiency units in the older tower would be converted to full one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. Most units would be for income-qualifying people, with some units offered at market rate. The new building would include expanded office space for housing authority staff, and a small, resident-operated retail store.
The new development and rehabilitation would increase the total unit count on both properties from 158 units to 164 units.
Shaw said his vote was gut-wrenching. He called the plan “good but not the best” and thought there were better options to be found for providing affordable senior housing.
Another opposition concern was expressed by resident Jeff Meyer, who felt the city might not be able to “spot zone” the new building and questioned the legality of allowing that property to be built where a house once stood.
Powell noted the project would provide construction jobs along with affordable senior housing. She also said she found some comments she heard during public discussions disturbing in their perceptions about who lives in the Central Park units.
During the public comments portion of Wednesday night’s session, School District U46 School Board Member Traci Ellis said she felt some were using their complaints about parking, traffic and building design as pretext.
“Low-income seniors have become a target of some people’s hate,” she said.