A referendum for better parks, better governance

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Vote 2005 Endorsement

The property tax burden is weighing heavy on Oak Parkers, and that is just one reason we don't take any government request to add another 200 bucks to your bill lightly.

For as long as it exists, state tax cap legislation will force nearly every government to seek voter-approved tax hikes on an occasional basis. And over the last 35 years, most all of our governments have done so, often multiple times, and often successfully. Most, that is, but the park district.

It's unfortunate that this referendum comes at a time when Oak Parkers are more frustrated with their tax bills than ever before. But, even in these times, we wholeheartedly endorse the park district referendum because it's based on sound, citizen-driven planning; planning that is, in fact, more rock solid than we've seen in years. From climbing through rec center crawl spaces, surveying community needs, and seeking (along with the village) a report from professional consultants, the parks have gone through greater pains than most to make a case for this referendum.

We support the referendum first because park district facilities are in desperate need of capital improvements that absolutely must be made, and taxpayer dollars are absolutely needed to make those repairs.

Second, we strongly endorse the park district achieving full independence from village government. Squabbles over "governance" of parks and recreation have plagued Oak Park for generations. Oak Park is, frankly, closer than it's ever been to placing responsibility for parks under one governing body. We shouldn't miss the opportunity to put this issue to rest, and we should let the ultimate power rest with the park board, not village trustees.

This park district board and staff have made strides to improve this organization even without an increase in tax dollars. They have increased fund balances in their own budget and instituted appropriate and overdue programming fee hikes. The park board is one of the most civil, cooperative and effective group of elected officials in this town, something we don't see changing after the election.

Lastly, we would like to urge the community to not be swayed by criticism and the petty politics spewed by the angst-filled group of village board members across Madison Street.

The village board should have been out supporting the park district from the start, rather than wringing its hands over how taking it over would put an end to more referendums. Referendums are not evil. They serve the purpose of inviting voters to participate in important government decisions.

If they were interested in doing a real service to the community, trustees would have been assuring the community that the village would cut its tax levy by $1.6 million, the amount it gives the park district annually. In the next few weeks, that's still a promise they should make, though we don't have high hopes.

In short, the park district has more than earned additional taxpayer support. The park board has the right temperament and skills to effectively manage taxpayer dollars and put Oak Park's parks on a course toward desperately needed renewal.

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