Oak Park's public works facilities are in sad shape and, overall, the department operates in about a quarter of the space it really needs, according to a consulting firm's study. There's no doubt that this situation needs to be rectified, and that public works requires a more modern and efficient space.
But the question now appears to be at what cost.
Over a year ago, the same consultants estimated that developing suitable quarters for public works would cost around $7.5 million. Now the board is looking at an estimate of $18-22 million for the most basic concepts.
The most high-end of the options?#34;and all of them look more like Taxman projects than what one envisions as a public works center?#34;could cost $23-27 million. As the village president pointed out, the total price tag might hit $30 million.
With that in mind, we have to ask: Does every public building in Oak Park (eg. the middle schools and the library) have to cost $30 million?
While we fully appreciate the village's effort to incorporate "green" design into the project, beyond that, we don't think this facility should include pricey bells and whistles. The ability to deliver salt indoors is nice, but not worth tacking on millions more in taxpayer investment.
This village is always talking about "taxing capacity," and expressing genuine concern about whether our highly-tax-burdened residents will continue to support referendums.
We would point out that, just because the village has home-rule authority, and isn't required to seek a referendum for substantial bond issues, it shouldn't get a free ride on accountability.
We expect the board to explain to a skeptical community why spending this much money on a public works center is justified. We don't think it is. Something a lot closer to the original $7.5 million estimate is much more to our liking.
After all, renovations to police department quarters is next in the capital expenditure queue. That project was estimated, by the same consultants, to cost $10 million. When plans are finally drafted, will we be presented with a $40 million option?
'Spillover' co-op is good, but stay alert
When Oak Park police are investigating obviously gang-related shootings on the fringes of town, we're apt to hear the term "spillover crime." While the activity may originate in other towns and barely overlap our borders, we sometimes feel the term is used too flippantly.
For the Oak Park resident living adjacent to Roosevelt Road in the wake of a drive-by shooting, the proximity and seriousness of the crime is unsettling, regardless of where the criminals hail from or why they ended up on our side of the border.
For that reason, we're happy to see the Oak Park police working more closely with Cicero, Berwyn and Forest Park to monitor gang activity. It's important for the police to be pro-active on this issue, rather than just dismissing it as "spillover crime."
Following this path, however, requires a delicate balancing act. For example, Cicero and its police department have a long history of dealing with internal corruption issues. Dealing with such municipalities won't always be easy.
That said, we look forward to Oak Park building productive relationships with these communities, while avoiding getting entangled in other sorts of "spillover."