Recent history of the Oak Park Park District is one of an agency once flush with support and financial means, that has seen a reversal of fortunes driven by priority shifts toward education, infrastructure concerns, and a state tax cap.
In the 1960s, our parks were award winning beacons of which communities from around the country would come and admire. Social changes later in the decade and into the next would heighten our concerns over home values, quality of education and maintaining a favorable business climate within our borders. Our parks and recreation programs were just fine, and not in need of any extra attention.
As the requirements in our education system rose in the 80s, so did our tax bills.
Our business community was struggling with geography and demographics, and our politics centered on conservation. Our parks and recreation made do with what they had, seeing that the priorities were elsewhere. The 90s brought talk of new Middle Schools, and a new Library. These were crucial to the quality of life and property in Oak Park's near and distant future. All the while, Districts 97 and 200 continued to need increases in funding to handle their new challenges during a decade with record growth nationally.
Today, we find our education system continuing its never ending battle to match requirements with funding, but in good shape overall. Our new library shines in our town's center. Our business community has seen new life, and our homes have seen wonderful growth in value and demand in recent years. All the while, our park district has had wonderful people doing wonderful things despite shrinking resources. With tax cap implications that have handcuffed them since '91, the ability to stretch a dollar any more has come to an end. Watching surrounding communities support for their parks programs grow while ours has stagnated, has created a gap that when discussed, causes embarrassment.
The debate of whether parks and recreation really adds value to our homes is an ongoing discourse of which priorities will never be agreed upon. I can be quite sure that the opposite cannot be denied when stated that under-funded, under-staffed and inferior parks and recreation facilities will continue to undermine the positives that so many have worked to achieve elsewhere in our community.
The reality is that 1964 was the last successful parks referendum in our village, and the needs of an additional one has not been discussed since the 1970s.
The priorities of the village must now return to a long forgotten institution that has continued its commitment to us despite our distracted support for it. Our current board has presented a researched and solid solution to a decades old problem that can no longer be ignored. The Park District of Oak Park needs independent funding and consolidated facilities to move into the future and grow. Support the positive direction our park district is striving to go.
"Renew Our Parks" Committee Member