By Anna Lothson
Oak Park residents won't be seeing a property tax hike next year but will likely see an increase in fees associated with water and sewer, garbage and recycling, and parking rates.
Craig Lesner, the village's chief financial officer, gave a brief rundown of the budget proposals to the board Monday night, hitting on the impact Oak Park's next budget will have for its long-term savings in the next five years.
This plan would gradually pay off the village's debt, which Lesner said is set to drop by roughly $2 million in 2013. He focused on the village's 99-percent spending philosophy, which dictates that Oak Park's expenditures will not surpass 99 percent of revenues.
Oak Park's water rate is slated to increase 10 percent, as outlined in the 2013 draft budget documents, primarily because Chicago is raising its rates again this year. The additional revenue, expected to be $957,000, will help offset charges from the city's increase; the remainder will fund needed infrastructure improvements to water and sewer lines and the increased costs of maintenance and personnel.
Trustee Ray Johnson asked Lesner why Oak Park was only raise the rate 10 percent when Chicago's rate is rising by 15 percent. Lesner explained that Oak Park is only passing on the actual costs to taxpayers, which comes out to 10 percent.
Along with the water rate fees, the costs for sewer services are set to rise 2.5 percent in 2013. This is expected to raise an additional $78,000 in revenue, bringing the revenue increase for water and sewer to more than $1 million. Revenues for the sewer fund have raised some concern in recent financial reports, coming in below the projected numbers during the past year.
The item that has garnered the most attention throughout the budgeting process was, and likely will be for years, the parking fund. Slight increases for the quarterly permit rates for on-street, lots and garages were proposed, as was raising the cost of meters. The changes would bring in an additional $119,000 in new revenue for the parking fund. The budget also includes a $1 million transfer from the parking fund to the general fund. Meter fees would rise slightly based on a three-tiered system, depending on the level of demand and where the meter is located.
Johnson also raised concerns about increasing parking fees in lots and on the street across from primarily residential areas for several consecutive years but not in certain business districts.
Interim Parking Manager Jill Velan said last year there was a "substantial" increase in the garage and permit rates, and the village is looking to close the gap on parking rates across the village. Velan also mentioned the village's long-term plan is to introduce credit card meters, but there is a $1 million expense associated with the switch.
The parking fund was in the red by more than $10.5 million in 2007, but that amount has since been reduced to around $3.5 million. It is expected to be fully paid by 2019. Pope has said throughout many of the finance committee meetings that it's important the parking fund become self-sustaining so the costs do not burden taxpayers, but is borne by those who use the lots and meters in Oak Park. This may not happen, however, until the parking debt is paid off in 2019.
Overall, on-street, overnight, quarterly parking permit fees will change from $105 per quarter to a three-tiered pricing system that includes high demand ($115/quarter), medium demand ($105/quarter), and low demand ($95/quarter). This change is estimated to bring in $54,000 annually. The proposal for a $5 increase in daytime, overnight and 24-hour quarterly parking permit fees for parking lots and garages would bring in an additional $65,000 annually.
The good news for taxpayers in last night's meeting was that the property tax rate is actually set to decrease overall by about 1.7 percent from 2012. The total decrease was just above 2 percent, Lesner explained, but because the village has to levy for the library, the actual decrease drops slightly.
"This is a fantastic statement to make any year," Lesner said about the decrease.
The draft budget numbers discussed at the meeting, however, are merely proposals until the board adopts the final budget. That decision is anticipated to be approved at the board's Dec. 10 meeting.