Let's start with a simple truth. No one likes to pay higher taxes. So taxes should not be increased unless a clear case has been made that doing so is in the public interest.
It is my opinion that a clear case has been made with regard to the "Renew Our Parks Referendum" that will appear on the April 5th ballot.
This referendum asks permission to increase property taxes in Oak Park for the purpose of rehabilitating old and deteriorating parks and recreational facilities. For about the price of a new digital camera (purchased annually), the Oak Park taxpayer would receive immediate upgrades in all existing buildings and grounds, and the development of long-term site master plans and infrastructure improvements for every park in every neighborhood in the village.
That such upgrades and master plans are needed is well documented.
In 2002, an Infrastructure Committee reported that it would cost a minimum of $13.6 million to restore existing parks and recreational facilities to their former quality.
More recently, a Park District Citizens Committee and a professional consultant documented the disjuncture that exists between our current parks and facilities and the long-range needs of citizens. For example, one of their findings is that the park district does not provide enough open space, activities for seniors and young adults, and trails for walking and biking.
Passing the Renew Our Parks Referendum is crucial to addressing the deferred maintenance issues that plague every park and recreational facility in our village. It also is foundational for re-designing parks and facilities to meet the needs of future generations.
Could the park district wait until another day, or find another way to fund these initiatives?
Sad to say, this referendum is long overdue. The park district hasn't put a referendum before Oak Park voters since 1970. This nearly 35 year hiatus has caused the property tax rate for the park district to diminish to less than 2 percent of the tax bill. As a point of comparison, 3 percent of the tax bill in Berwyn goes to the park district, 5 percent in River Forest, and 7 percent in Forest Park.
It is important to note, too, that even though expenditures have been cut back to 1998 levels, the park district is just barely meeting its operating costs, with less than $100,000 annually going toward the restoration of parks and facilities.
The fact is that if we Oak Parkers want quality parks and recreation, then we either have to approve this referendum, or accept higher program fees and facility closings.
For me, the case is clear.
Parks need to be safe, reliable, and up to standards.
Parks need to be accessible, and in tune with the needs and values of the citizenry.
Parks need to be a part of our vision for the future, and a means of creating dynamic, meaningful, and cohesive neighborhoods and communities.
These are the reasons I will vote "yes" on the Renew Our Parks Referendum come April 5th. I hope you will join me.
Oak Park Park Commissioner