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March 18 primary has three local referenda on the ballot

Thu, Apr 3, 2014

The March 18 Illinois primary includes referenda on the minimum wage in Chicago, on a $30 million stormwater management bond issue in Winnetka and on the abolition of township government in Evanston.

The Grassroots Collaborativr hosted a “Take Back Chicago” event January 30 press event at the Chicago Temple in support of the measure that asks voters if corporations and businesses that grossed over $50 million in the previous tax year should be required to pay employees a $15 an hour minimum wage. Supporters among community organizations include Action Now and the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

“We need to give our workers an opportunity to earn a living wage,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th ward) in prepared material.

“The minimum wage, established in the early ’60s, adjusted for inflation and productivity gains should be at $15 just to keep pace with the economic expansion that has resulted in record profits for large corporations,” said Ald. John Arena (45th ward). “It is time that workers that are responsible for this expansion realize this modest benefit.”

Currently, full-time minimum wage workers in Chicago earn $17,000 a year. “Living on $8.25 is constantly one sacrifice after another sacrifice,” said McDonald’s employee Janah Bailey. “It’s time for people to speak out because these corporations just keep getting rich off our labor.”

The largest component of Winnetka referendum centers on a proposed eight-foot tunnel under Willow Road from approximately Glendale Avenue to Lake Michigan to discharge storm water into Lake Michigan. The initiative follows severe storms in September 2008 and July 2011, where “basements flooded and streets overflowed,” and “entire neighborhoods…were inundated with water,” according to a 2011 ABC 7 report.

Winnetka has separate sanitary and storm sewers, officials said in a town hall meeting last November. However, excessive storm water can enter the sanitary system, what is known as “inflow.”

Proposed improvements are intended to provide protection from a 100-year storm. Besides the tunnel, the project would include replacing four pumps at the Winnetka Avenue Pump station to increase capacity from 40,000 gallons a minute to 60,000 gallons a minute; this would improve flow in storm sewers in south and west sections of the village and increase discharge capacity of the Forest Preserve ditch, according to the website for the project. There would also be new outlets from Sheridan Road at Lloyd Park; a relief sewer along Old Green Bay Road and Tower Road and trunk sewers in northwest Winnetka.

However, Winnetka residents filed a petition for an advisory referendum.
Meg Gibson, who advocated for the petition, told the Chicago Tribune that a majority of Winnetka citizens “believe a project of this size should be decided by village residents…the referendum is not intended to suggest there is not a need to address these issues, but it’s a matter of having village governance and democracy at work.”

Officials with the Winnetka Homeowner’s Association (WHOA) denounced the efforts of residents who pushed for the referendum in an email blast, saying that they were “trying to obstruct forward progress of storm water relief in Winnetka…and hoping to throw a monkey wrench into the project.”
In Evanston the issue is that City and Township boundaries are identical.

Last August, Gov. Quinn signed a bill to let the City Council place a binding referendum on the ballot asking voters whether or not they favor abolishing the Township. If a majority of Evanston citizens do not wish to preserve the Township, its responsibilities would be taken over by the city.

In an advisory referendum held in 2012, Evanston voted 2-1 in favor of “pursuing the idea.” The city’s alderman and mayor serve as the township board but the township also includes two of its own positions: supervisor and assessor.

Evanston’s city manager has said that having the city provide township services could save several hundred thousand dollars a year, according to a story on EvanstonNow.com last August. However, the same article notes that the idea has “drawn criticism from the township’s elected officials and some township employees and general assistance recipients,” who fear that the decision would mean a loss of employment and services.

Thomas Fowkes
StreetWise Editorial Intern

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