By Anna Lothson
Don't get the sticker scrapers out just yet — the annual Oak Park vehicle sticker likely won't be going away next year.
A suggestion that came out of Oak Parks' finance committee last month to eliminate the sticker and offset the revenue instead with a property tax levy has been taken off the table for the 2014 budget. The issue was deliberated during a special village board meeting Monday when trustees agreed more investigating needed to be done before adding to residents' overall tax burden.
The budget draft suggested replacing the $1.25 million brought in from the $45 per registered vehicle with a property tax increase that would generate $1.1 million. The additional savings was said to be found in eliminating the staff costs and materials required to operate the sticker program. The suggestion was said to save the village about $150,000, but would result in an average property tax increase of $95 per household, depending on the property taxes.
Trustees, however, agreed Monday the 2014 budget was not the right time to add another tax or get rid of the vehicle sticker. It was suggested more research was needed before the village changes the system
"Have we exhausted all options?" Village President Anan Abu-Taleb asked. Toward the end of the discussion, after the other four trustees at the meeting weighed in, Abu-Taleb suggested the group "park the item."
The village president's pun generated a few laughs on the otherwise serious issue, but trustees backed this suggestion and determined the issue should come up during the next budget planning process. Trustees also recommended the parking sticker issue be mixed into larger parking fund issues, such as the revenue discussions about increasing on-street permit fees, garages and lots and meters. Each of those categories is currently being worked through in the 2014 budget process.
Although the group agreed it wasn't time to eliminate the vehicle sticker next year, Trustee Bob Tucker gave support to the concept because he said the property tax increase was deductible for residents, whereas the sticker is not.
Resident Bridgett Baron, the only public commenter during the meeting, spoke against the current mindset and process behind eliminating the vehicle sticker. The Oak Parker wasn't questioning the idea, but said adding a property tax is too big of a jump from what she believes the parking fund was designed for.
Trustees seemed to back a similar mindset, agreeing more research is needed. Putting the expense on property owners was another major talking point among trustees.
"It's appealing to get rid of the sticker," Trustee Adam Salzman said. "The concept I can't get my head around is shifting the burden to the property taxpayer … It helps that it's deductible, but no one really sees a sigh of relief because it's deductible."
Salzman backed the concept of taxing automobile usage rather than property taxes.
Trustee Ray Johnson also didn't think the concept was ready to launch for the 2014 budget and said the village needs to address the equity and fairness behind the parking sticker issue.
"The users who have the most impact should carry more of that cost," Johnson said. Because the village is encouraging transit use over vehicle use, he suggested any policy work within that mindset.
"I'm not ready to pull the trigger tonight," he said.
Trustee Glenn Brewer said he was glad the village was starting to think differently on this issue, but also wants the village to do more work before agreeing to a new system. He asked what system the village uses to ensure those avoiding getting a vehicle sticker are caught.
Jill Velan, Oak Park's interim parking services manager, said the technology is changing toward license plate recognition but is not there yet. She also said the county's database, which costs money to request information from, doesn't always provide accurate numbers. License plate recognition technology may be ready by 2015, Velan said, but said staff will continue to research all options.