As expected, Oak Park park commissioners last week unanimously passed a resolution to place a 25 cent tax hike on the ballot next April. The referendum will specifically request that voters agree to pay additional tax dollars to fund a "renewal" of existing playgrounds, parks, facilities and programming.
At a board meeting last Thursday, commissioners indicated that money generated by a tax hike would go toward capital improvements outlined in an Infrastructure Report and in the district's comprehensive plan, but that there were no immediate plans for undertaking new projects. The infrastructure report found the parks were in need of over $14 million in repairs and improvements.
"Throughout the comprehensive plan there was the notion of renewing the facilities we have. We're not yet ready for new things because the base isn't there. The task isn't new things," said Commissioner David Kindler.
Board president Tim Kelly, who announced at the same meeting he would not be running for re-election, also said the referendum will only be a first step in improving the parks.
"The dreams of generations ahead will be built on the bedrock of our referendum," he said. "Now's the time to make the message clear. The money we're asking for is pretty meager compared to other park districts."
If approved, the referendum would cost property tax payers roughly $52 per $20,900 of their property's Equalized Assessed Value (EAV), or per $100,000 in actual market value.
It would also allow the district to end its financial dependence on the village, which gives the district $1.6 million annually.
Kelly won't run again
Park board president Tim Kelly announced last Thursday that he will not seek re-election, saying only that his decision stems from "personal reasons."
Kelly, who has served on the park board nearly eight years, would not elaborate further on his decision.
He will, however, actively campaign for the April referendum before his term expires.
Parks elect to carry out own testing at Barrie Center
Rather than proceed with a strategy proposed by Commonwealth Edison, the park district will itself pay to test soil at Barrie Center for contaminants.
ComEd had proposed taking two soil samples of up to 12 inches from a crawl space at the center, a method that, though approved by the state Environmental Protection Agency, the park district found to be insufficient in scope.
The district will now take several 10-foot samples from crawl space.
Work will likely begin early next year, said Gary Balling, parks executive director.
The wording of the referendum question that will be put to voters is as follows:
Shall the Park District of Oak Park, Cook County, Illinois be authorized to levy and collect an additional tax of not to exceed .25% for all corporate purposes including safety and regulatory improvements and renewal of playgrounds, parks, facilities, and recreation programs as provided in section 5-3 of The Park District Code?