By Cathy Yen
Taxes. Have we reached the tipping point? Potential referendums for the school districts, TIFs, the need for development, the cost of living in Oak Park and River Forest – these issues all relate to our tax structure.
We are in a bit of a bind now, having defined our communities by good schools, services and parks. These need upkeep and ongoing investment, even if just to replace aging infrastructure. Absorbing the cost of new investment is a challenge any family, business or even public institution understands.
Our tree-lined neighborhoods devoid of big box stores and industry are particularly sensitive to tax increases. A small increase in the levy – the amount of total tax that funds the budgets of the schools, park district, library, township and municipal government – will be largely felt by the residents.
The relatively small commercial sector pays it share and struggles mightily with taxes to be sure. But that share is smaller than in towns with more business. Our government and schools are funded by mostly by property taxes, augmented by some sales taxes and to a lesser extent fees and other use taxes. We simply have mostly residential properties to fund those property taxes. Our commercial base here is not that sizeable, meaning less commercial property tax and less sales tax than elsewhere.
Think about Oak Brook, with its huge mall and numerous office towers. Or neighbors with manufacturing or industry. Westmont with its car dealerships arrayed one after another down Ogden. These businesses contribute a significant amount of revenue to the local coffers, relieving some of the burden on residents.
Our schools are not ridiculously expensive and our governments do a decent job at cost containment and efficiency. Families' tax bills are higher here because our residents shoulder more of the burden of funding the levy than do residents in other communities.
We continue to build and develop in part to increase the pie: create a larger funding base to pay for our public institutions. In the meantime, we will continue to struggle with how to pay for our much loved and much needed services and institutions.