By Dan Haley
Speaking to a packed house of local business leaders Friday morning at the Carleton Hotel, Oak Park Village President Anan Abu-Taleb forcefully laid down a marker, asking citizens and business people to demand that each local taxing body cut its annual property tax levy by 10 percent over the next six years.
Saying he would stand on street corners with citizens to gather petition signatures, Abu-Taleb said such petitions "should be signed by thousands and displayed in the six board rooms" of local taxing bodies "becoming a guiding principal of government."
Warming to the topic in his prepared remarks to the Civic and Business Council gathering, Abu-Taleb said, "We need to set a clear target and hold officials accountable or the tax burden will continue to rise" to levels he declared "unsustainable if we want our children to be able to live in a town we love."
Then Abu-Taleb turned to the Park District of Oak Park, his favorite recent target, again upbraiding that organization for the just-begun $3 million renovation of its current Madison Street headquarters rather than throwing in on a shared headquarters with Oak Park School District 97.
The village government and District 97 are closing in on a pact to swap Madison Street properties and build a new HQ that will be funded out of dollars owed to the schools from the Madison Street TIF.
Previous discussions to add the parks into a shared headquarters faltered over the past year and the park district chose to go its own route.
Saying that the park district currently has 20 employees in its headquarters, he calculated the district will spend $150,000 per employee in the renovation.
"This is a $3 million opportunity missed," he said. "If [local governments] aren't going to collaborate on things such as this, what are we going to collaborate on, paper clips?"
He urged elected officials to think beyond the needs of their specific entities and to consider the community in a holistic manner.
"Our taxpayers are not an unlimited resource. And taxpayers need to know government is not the answer to every problem," Abu-Taleb said. "This is not an all-you-can-eat buffet."
Specifically, he pointed to demands from some parents that every classroom in District 97 schools be air conditioned.
"That will cost $25 million to get five more days of comfort so our kids never sweat," Abu-Taleb said. "I don't mind my kids suffering a little bit. I actually like to see them suffer a little bit."
Asked by moderator Steven Strahler where the village government might make cuts, Abu-Taleb said village staff and the village board are looking at reductions or overhauls to the health department, to the adjudication court system and at the engineering department within public works.
He said decisions on such reductions will be folded into the coming fiscal year budget.
"The village needs that sense of discipline, too," said Abu-Taleb.
Answer Book 2018
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