By Anna Lothson
The proposed 2014 Oak Park budget has one element that could save the village $150,000 and eliminate the annual village vehicle sticker. The proposal, however, wouldn't save all residents money. In fact, it adds a tax that impacts all residents and property owners differently.
The village's parking fund, which faces a roughly $2 million deficit and is expected to be paid off by 2019, was discussed at Thursday's village board finance committee meeting. The budget item as currently written would get rid of the $65 vehicle sticker, eliminating the $1.25 million in revenue that comes with it. To offset that, however, the village would levy a property tax increase, generating $1.1 million. The $150,000 in savings comes from the staff costs and materials required to operate the sticker program.
The 2014 recommended budget summary (available on the village's website), said the tax increase would result in an annual increase of $95 for a home with a market value of $500,000.
On average, this means some residents would be paying less, and some more, than the current vehicle sticker costs — depending on home values and how many cars are registered in the village to that home.
The budget summary reviews both sides to implementing this tax.
"While the argument can be made that vehicle stickers are intended to tax individuals for ownership of a car and require car owners to participate more in the cost of village services to maintain roads and regulate traffic, it can also be argued that commercial properties in the village contribute to traffic and road use regardless of their individual ownership of vehicles," the report details.
"Therefore, a property tax in lieu of a vehicle sticker could be considered equitable."
Staff suggests the tax would be a "more efficient" method to collect instead of relying on fees brought in from vehicle stickers, especially since some residents don't comply with that regulation. The proposal also factors in the impact to businesses.
"If the revenue from vehicle stickers were shifted to a property tax levy, all businesses, inclusive of those without company vehicles, would be responsible for a portion of this tax," according to the budget summary.
Trustee Bob Tucker, a finance committee member, said the group did not take a position on the matter and said the issue needed to be discussed by the full board before accepting staff's recommendation.
"The conclusion reached was that it's certainly a very interesting concept that needed full board engagement. It's a big thing. Vehicle stickers have frustrated Oak Park for a long time," Tucker said. This included people who don't like the process and the cost and the people who don't like people who avoid buying the required sticker.
"I appreciate both schools of thought," Tucker said.
The tax increase could have benefits, he said.
"In one way, [the tax] is better because it's deductible," Tucker said. "Either way, Oak Parkers would still be paying money."
For Oak Parkers who don't drive, this tax would be an additional expense, but Tucker said there is a fairness argument that they, like everyone else, use and benefit from well-maintained streets and sidewalks. The tax increase would go directly into that fund.
In this specific instance, whether Oak Park taxes residents or charges a fee, it makes no difference, Tucker said.
"Oftentimes, politicians — locally and statewide — like to say they are not raising taxes, but they raise fees. I just want to have an honest conversation," he said. "It's money out of your pocket one way or the other. … Let's find a way to do it cheapest and fairest."
"What I'm concerned about most is the overall tax burden on Oak Parkers. I don't care if it's a tax or fee."
Tucker said no specific date is known when the full board will discuss this budget item but stressed the budget item was simply a proposal until it's formally adopted at the end of the year.