Technology first

Opinion: Columns

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There are a lot of ideas floating through Oak Park's village hall right now. That's all good. Unleashing staff to use their expertise in areas of budgeting, parking, policing, etc. would be a positive change in an environment where professionals have too frequently held back, worrying that initiative would not be rewarded.

Another new idea came out of the parking division last week as the board's finance committee worked toward a 2014 budget. This idea is to eliminate the requirement for vehicle stickers and to substitute a small hike in the village's share of property taxes to offset the lost revenue from the window decals.

It's an intriguing idea. Everyone is annoyed by vehicle stickers. You have to remember to buy them by mail or stand in line at village hall on deadline day under threat of higher fees and vigilant ticket writing. You have to remove the old sticker, or risk becoming one of those people with 11 stickers running up and down the right side of your windshield.

Now there are some equity issues with property tax replacement concept. If you currently have three cars, upping your property taxes by the estimated $95 a year will prove a cost savings for your household. If however, you've bought into the village's sustainability mantra and have just a single car, or no car at all, then you're paying extra into the village's property tax bucket and it won't feel great.

The parking department people say they can save taxpayers overall about $150,000 annually by eliminating the stickers. No mailing costs. No staff costs for processing. No prize money for the grade school kid who designs the sticker. Taking costs out of Oak Park's village government is always appealing.

But before we leap at this notion, we'd reorient the discussion to what we believe ought to be the starting question for every problem village hall identifies: How can we bring technology to bear on this?

How can we most efficiently sell vehicle stickers digitally? When and how are we using technology to streamline overnight parking passes, maybe even turn it into a revenue stream? If we accomplish those things, can we save two or three clerical positions in next year's village budget? That's real savings — bankable and long-term.

The no vehicle sticker solution is worth a good airing. The technology investment solution comes first.

Reader Comments

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Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 6:11 PM

I see. Thanks, Bridgett.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:32 PM

@Neighbor, to clarify, the Village already does offer "e-bills" like for the water/sewer bills. So they are already doing some things this way. (Though, if you want automatic direct debit to pay, you have to fill out a hard-copy form, rather than being able to fill out a form online.)

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:11 PM

@Neighbor, I think the same way other companies do it...If they don't have my email address to ask via email, then when I get a paper bill that asks me if I want to "go paperless," I follow the directions to sign up for that. I do it with my electric, mobile phone, credit cards, etc. the only bills I get via postal mail is from the Village, and from Cook County (tax bill).

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:04 PM

Yes, in the specific case about the vehicle stickers, as I said in my comments on that specific story from last week, it is so convoluted, that the Village claims that the vehicle sticker money, now proposed to be collected via property tax bills is logical since we all benefit from good roads. But the vehicle sticker money is not for roads! It's for parking. So yeah, being decades behind technologically does conveniently allow for murky, accounting to occur.

Neighbor from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 3:01 PM

Bridgett, how would the village contact people who don't have or know how to use computers when it!s time to renew their stickers? How would parking personnel know who needs postage mail or email? Just curious.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 1:45 PM

Well said, VV. Agree 100%. I'm sure this was discussed in private in order prior to making it public. I'd consider this a done deal also. Terrible.

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 1:25 PM

For what is worth, I dont believe for a second that this is about efficiency or cost savings. This is about shifting the burden for the irresponsible and financially disasterous decisions made by the village regarding parking structures directly on to taxpayers and further obscuring their murky origins in the complexities of our property tax bills. This hides the debacle of the OPRF teachers' free parking garage, which OPRF wants to tear down even as the village has years left to pay it off.

Marty from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 12:42 PM

@Done. Any "good" examples? Do you think there is a lack of knowledge, or a lack or resources to do any process redesigns?

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 12:36 PM

Marty - oh, it's bad.

Marty from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 12:22 PM

There are many processes and procedures in the village that need help from "new" IT tools. One of them being the overnight parking. There should have be an online portal to just enter the information instead of wasting time waiting for the one person to take your call. This is just one very small example. I would love to see inside VH at the lack of technology being used there. Hopefully its not as bad as we think.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 12:18 PM

The sticker process can be cumbersome. But the point is that the current proposed solution to the stickers is not a good one because the mindset is off. If the mindset were in this millennium, then that same mindset used to solve the sticker issue could be used to solve other inefficiencies, in other areas of Village Hall (and other taxing bodies as well). Example: The option of getting bills, renewals, etc. via email. Save paper, postage, and time. It seems so simple, so logical, and yet...

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 12:08 PM

@Village Voice, While yes, the stickers have been available to order online, and this is a step in the right direction, it doesn't go far enough. It's not at all automated. All that was done was put a database online in order to look up your VIN. But why are we still getting a renewal notice by mail (instead via email)? Why, rather than automatically generating a sticker to be sent, all that's automated is an email to a staff member to send out a sticker? It's still 1990s technology.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 9:09 AM

"If however, you've bought into the village's sustainability mantra and have just a single car, or no car at all, then you're paying extra into the village's property tax bucket and it won't feel great." Not to mention that the more the value of my property increases, the more revenue the village makes. Does this sound familiar (D200 referendum)?

Village Voice from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2013 8:23 AM

In the village's defense, stickers have been available online for years. You simply enter a PIN from the mailer and all your info is pre-entered. Perhaps the incentive of a massive surcharge, ala the tollway's IPass, for those who want luxury of counter service will steer more folks to easy online processing. The failure of the village to provide online night parking passes in its latest website revamp is mind-boggling though. Village Parking Manager is a full time job. What do they do all day?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: October 22nd, 2013 10:22 PM

Can't agree more. Every request to the Board or VM,should have a box with a simple description of "Technology" being used.

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