With the Park District of Oak Park preparing to gear up for a referendum next April?#34; which, if approved, would free the district of its dependence on a $1.6 million annual subsidy from the village?#34;we decided to ask sitting village board members: If a referendum is approved, should the village cease to levy the $1.6 million it gives the park district? Should the village board even take a position on the issue before the election?
The subsidy is taken out of the village's corporate fund, 25 percent of which is property tax dollars.
Here are some of the answers we got:
? Trustee Ray Johnson said he would like to have a conversation with fellow trustees regarding whether or not the village board as a whole should take a position on the issue.
"We're still analyzing the master plan and I have not yet received anything from the park district in regard to their referendum proposal," he said, adding that he would specifically be interested in seeing how the park board would "prioritize the plan in relation to the referendum," before taking a position.
? Trustee Robert Milstein said he's not sure the board will take a position on the referendum, but he's "100 percent behind it."
On abating the money, he said, "I don't know. I'm only one of seven." "They don't have the money yet. There's the possibility they will have to continue getting money from us. We could abate it, or use it for another process."
? Trustee Galen Gockel said only that the taxpayer"could see some relief from the village" if the referendum is approved, adding that he is "enthused" about a park referendum.
"This will permit the village board to reduce its own tax levy by $1.65 million. This is the amount of property tax we provide to the park district to run its recreation programs. That will not be necessary if the park referendum passes, so the taxpayer could see some relief from the village."
? Trustee Diana Carpenter said "it's a premature question."
"The park district has to lay out the use of the money and the reason for needing the money and the community has to vote yes or no," she said. "I think the election is going to mean quite a bit."
? Trustee David Pope said that because the funding was earmarked for park services, "certainly, at least some of those dollars should go back to taxpayers."
"We as a board need to come to some sort of consensus sooner rather than later, and in enough time that we don't, through inaction, negatively impact how the referendum is considered by the community," he said,."I think we can answer the question in such away that it doesn't result in becoming part of the political campaign."
? Village President Joanne Trapani said the answer "depends on what the village's needs are, and whether or not there will be a need for the dollars in the future" for other potentially increasing village expenses, such as rising pension costs. "I don't think it's reasonable to pledge not to raise taxes."
She also said, it is possible, that, even with a referendum, the parks may still need money from the village to make the capital improvements recommended by a district infrastructure report and the parks masterplan.
After withdrawing from the VMA selection process, sitting Trustee David Pope announced last week that he will run independently for village president next April.
Pope, who first publicly stated his candidacy in a letter to the editor in WEDNESDAY JOURNAL, said on Monday he believes serving as president of the board will put him in a better position to bringtrustees, residents, and taxing bodies together to focus on the "shared values" of the community.
"I would be in a stronger position as president to help set the tone for the discussion at the board table and between the board and the community," he said. "I think I can bring a unifying approach here in our community. The village president helps to set the agenda and brings people and groups together."
In his letter, Pope said both the VMA and the New Leadership Coalition (NLC) are sometimes too invested in "vilifying the other," adding also that he has concernsabout reduced participation in the VMA's selection committee.
Gene Armstrong, president of the VMA, which slated Pope when he ran for trustee nearly two years ago, said on Monday that he was disappointed in Pope's comments regarding the VMA.
"I was somewhat disappointed that he decided to justify his position by disparaging the VMA selection process," he said. "He decided the better course of action, instead of relying on the VMA comprised of whomever and whatever experience in local affairs that might add up to, was to be selected by one, by him."
If Pope is elected, he will have to appoint someone to fill his position as trustee. That person will have to be approved by the village board. If he is notelected, he will serve out the remainder of his term as a trustee