Don't bleed dry the taxpayer turnip

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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Closing the gap on unfunded government liabilities, including pension liabilities, is a high priority for state government by almost every measure. The state is less competitive, has higher unemployment, and its universities are becoming expensive relative to surrounding states. We're not retaining our brightest high school graduates and liabilities are crowding out social programs and funding for research and development.

I could go on. The most recent state pension proposal pushes unfunded school liabilities to the local district. This may not pass, but then again, it may. So all of our local taxing districts, collectively, need to plan for the possibility that the state will implement its plan and pass those costs on in an effort to selfishly right its own balance sheet.

Collectively, Oak Park tax districts had over $107 million in unfunded pension liabilities when Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas collected and published her findings in 2011. I could not find the library's unfunded liability by the way. The Village of Oak Park had the highest unfunded liability of the five districts that did report (village, parks, township and schools) at over $95 million. Collectively, these five districts have met only 57 percent of their pension liability.

There was a lot of talk about intergovernmental cooperation a few years ago. Since taxpayers get one tax bill (in two installments), can't the districts coordinate their collective spending?

When one district wants to build a senior center, for instance, and has an unfunded pension liability of $333,721, or another wants to build an ice skating facility or renovate several parks, but has a $928,354 unfunded liability, or yet another wants to pave the streets with brick, but has a $95,591,385 liability, shouldn't they collectively say to one another, "As a village, we have only met 57% of our pension liabilities. Let's focus on improving that figure for the benefit of the village's finances first."

There is only so much blood in the taxpayer turnip. Does anyone think about our collective priorities?

Brian Lantz

Oak Park

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Brian Lantz  

Posted: December 14th, 2012 10:27 AM

Thank you. Government jurisdictions in Illinois and elsewhere are highly fragmented, each with its own kingdom. For instance, spending on parks alone has risen 300% over the last ten years. Oak Parkers have no real control on aggregate spending - like Wack-a-Mole. It should change, starting with Township consolidation into Village oversite. Just a thought.

Bill from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2012 9:08 PM

Best comment this year in WJ. Perhaps the WJ could get off its butt and do a series of articles on the under funded pensions in Oak Park, Explain why the village is so underfunded as opposed to the park district and what can be done to close the gaps at the village level. Far too often pension issues are blamed on the state, but that doesn't explain why some localgoverning bodies are rated green by Ms. Pappas while far too many Oak Park bodies are yellow or red.

Amy Williams from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2012 3:31 PM

Great article, Brian. You are not alone. Spending is completely out of control in Oak Park, with no sense of what is a necessity and what is a luxury, and money being wasted constantly, on silly things like $33k colorful crosswalks on Harrison Street. It feels like the government is run by people who have never been on a budget and have never heard the expression, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." This is our money, and it is being squandered by people who just don't care.

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