Tax increases in Oak Park: it adds up

Opinion: Columns


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Nile Wendorf

In 2012, property tax owners paid over $168 million to fund our various local governmental bodies. Ten years ago, we paid $109 million to fund those same governmental functions. That represents a 54% increase in the cost of government as reflected in our property tax bills over the last 10 years. In the last four years (the term length for any current board member standing for reelection), the overall levy increased by $25 million, an increase of 18.5%. There has been a lot written in the newspapers and online about the source of this increase. The purpose of this viewpoint is to provide a factual framework around those conversations prior to the upcoming municipal elections.

In Oak Park, we have many elected boards that lead our various public institutions. Each of those boards make independent decisions as to what they believe is in the best interest of the community. Those decisions then get reflected in the cumulative property tax levy. The accompanying chart lists Oak Park's major taxing bodies and shows the size of their levy and its growth since the 2007 levy that was paid in 2008.

District 97 had the largest absolute increase in their property tax levy ($10.3 million) consistent with the referendum that the voters passed in April 2011. The Village of Oak Park had the second largest absolute increase in property taxes and the largest percent change in property taxes during the last four years. The $5.3 million increase in property taxes, or 30.7% did not require a voter referendum because the Village of Oak Park is a home-rule community and is therefore exempt from state tax cap legislation. Compared to other taxing bodies, the village of Oak Park is also less dependent upon property tax revenue. During that same period, all of the other Oak Park taxing bodies increased their levy by an average of 15.9% versus the village's increase of 30.7%.

Comparing property taxes across municipalities is a difficult task. The Civic Federation, an independent non-partisan government organization, produces an annual study in which they estimate the effective property tax rates across selected communities in Northeastern Illinois. It is a measure of the property tax burden placed on homeowners and businesses. In January 2013 they released their updated analysis which covers 2010 property taxes paid in 2011. Oak Park has the third highest effective property tax rate in Cook County and generally Cook County property owners pay higher property taxes than in the collar counties.

The following chart from the Civic Federation puts our relative property tax position into an overall context:

As Oak Parkers, we like to compare ourselves to Evanston. In terms of residential property taxes, our effective property tax rate of 3.31% is more than 50% higher than the Evanston rate of 2.17%. This disparity underscores the need to elect government officials who will strive to put the utmost efficiency into our local governmental operations.

There is no indication that property taxes can ever go down in a community like Oak Park. We demand top-notch services across all of the governmental bodies. However, we do need to elect officials who understand the property tax burden everyone pays by choosing to live in this community and the impact it has on the long-term economic vitality of the community. It takes more than lip service to minimize the ever-increasing cost of government. They also need to remember that all of those "modest" increases approved across all of those independent boards do add up to a significant and regular increase in our property tax bills.

Nile Wendorf is a 20-year resident of Oak Park.

Reader Comments

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OP Executive  

Posted: April 1st, 2013 10:47 AM

The reality is the seeds were planted long ago by the lack of cohesive business development strategy, the red tape at OP and zoning silliness. Perhaps driven by desire to protect FLW environment or just lack of smarts but poor strategy either way...

Wes from OP  

Posted: April 1st, 2013 10:17 AM

In reality, the Village of Oak Park part of the real estate tax Pie is small. It's the two school Districts that make our taxes extremely high, both having a plethora of highly paid Administrators.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 10:07 PM

At the Buzz Cafe, not one of the OPT candidates would say that reduced taxes in Oak Park was feasible. With home valuation weak and commercial development at a standstill, that implies that growth, the engine of tax relief and public services, will restrict the village's ability to attain the vision of the 1990 Village Plan and the 2005 extension of the Greater Downtown Oak Park Plan. The OPT position on taxes is sobering, but not necessarily correct. Meaningful growth and reduced property taxes can occur if the board vision concentrated its attention on bringing the village business processes and archaic village code into the 21st Century. There are hundreds of people who want to live, or stay, in quaint Oak Park. That does not mean it wants quaintness in lifestyle. The people who live, or want to live in Oak Park want to live in a community that is on the leading edge of the 21st century.

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 8:56 PM

Civic Tax Link


Posted: March 31st, 2013 7:36 PM

@OPRF Achievement. Link didn't work for me. @op resident - you're right, but why? My opinion? Slowly boiling pot of tax increases and that most people, imo, are challenged by numbers. C'mon, look at the US deficits and spending! Did the people in Greece/Ireland/Spain/Cyprus, etc think that they had a spending problem? Nooo. Which was true - until they did. Combine abysmal voter turnout in municipal elections with that frog in the pot - and you get this outcome. History is replete with this!

op resident  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 7:08 PM

And keep in mind at the LWV candidate forum Hedges' point of view was that everything in the village is pretty much swell. How can you address budget problems if you're not even aware they exist?

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 2:38 PM

Unfortunately/OakParker1984, WHY would People who spent money want 2 tell Us Taxpaying minions @ such a enlightened study 2 shine a BRIGHT light of TRANSPARENCY on unabated spending in OP last 10 Yrs. Residents in OP have NO one 2 blame but themselves. Have treated elections as a vote for a "friend" & NOT attended tough debates 2 hold their feet 2 the fire. Anyone interested in GREAT study


Posted: March 31st, 2013 11:45 AM

@Fruit. FWIW, Evanston has a population of about 75,000 and thus 6x the amount of RF. Which should keep the 21,000 vs 8,500 in perspective. Further, OPRF Achievement is right - which is why Evanston/NU are constantly "battling" over this issue - which, admittedly, has a lot of grey. Bottom line, Oak Park has had a HUGE spending binge the past 10+ years. C'mon, it was necessary to install a large "Maze Library" monument on its front lawn? The sign above the door wasn't enough? Are we stupid?

OPRF Achievement  

Posted: March 31st, 2013 8:36 AM

Con & Do Universities are NON Profit. They do NOT pay any Property Taxes, yet RF residents have to subsidize through their taxes -Fire, Police and upkeep of sewer and water service. It is --- well a DRAIN. Also, note the only towns in the noted Civic Fed study with increases in Taxes - higher then OP were areas in blight -Harvey and Chicago Heights - WHY?? Evanston was MUCH lower both for Residential and Commercial! OP is top 10 worst for both residential & commercial. Needs Action!


Posted: March 31st, 2013 8:17 AM

NW has roughly 21,000 students/full time faculty. Dominican and Concordia combined have 8500.


Posted: March 31st, 2013 7:21 AM

Im sure RF is happy and benefits from thier Universities as well. Unfortunately, RF sits right next to OP and shares the wealth. Not sure the specifics about NW and the RF schools. Isnt NW a tad bit larger than Dom and Con combined?

OP Resident  

Posted: March 30th, 2013 10:23 PM

Excellent analysis and insight. Issue is nothing will be done as OP lacks the will to make the tough decisions and discipline to say no.


Posted: March 30th, 2013 10:16 PM

@apples to oranges. Regarding your comment regarding "HUGE university" - applying the same logic - wouldn't RF then be giddy about, relatively speaking, having both Concordia and Dominican in town? That RF must therefore be rolling in the dough? In truth, Evanston views NU as a drain on resources and not a benefit. Your point on considering other metrics is logical, but one can't look past that OP has gone on a spending binge the past 10 years and THIS is why taxes are today so high.

Apples to Oranges  

Posted: March 30th, 2013 11:47 AM

Maybe the industry and other sources in Evanston contribute dollars to the community more so than in OP. So it may not be an apples to apples comparison. The better comparison would be total operating budget and how we match up in terms of size and number of services and residents. They do have a HUGE university there that brings ALOT of money to the local economy. More of OP's tax burden is placed on homeowners due to the fact that we have less industry and we are land locked.

john murtagh  

Posted: March 30th, 2013 10:25 AM

The cry of "Fiscal Responsibility" has been a mainstay of VMA supported candidates. Also a mainstay is that the village board is committed to not increasing taxes. It all sounds good until you realized that OPV has $100M in debt - all accrued in the last ten years, and a bloated budget. It is not fiscal responsibility if you balance a budget every year while never facing the reality that the budget continues to grow while revenues remain flat. We need Anan on the board.

Done from Oak Park  

Posted: March 29th, 2013 9:40 AM

Thank you, Mr. Wendorf. This is outstanding. This explains the village's problems about as clearly as it gets.

OP Voter  

Posted: March 29th, 2013 9:17 AM

Well, someone has to give Ray Johnson a break - guess it was Teresa's turn!

Citizen Kaned  

Posted: March 29th, 2013 6:57 AM

I find it very inappropriate for Ms. Powell, a Village employee, to campaign on this site with comments pretending to be a public service. She doesn't even have the decency to use a pseudonym like "Silly".

Teresa Powell  

Posted: March 29th, 2013 1:10 AM

Actually, David Pope provided all the details of recent tax increases at the March 18 Village Board meeting, noting that net of state-mandated pension payments the Village budget has actually dropped slightly over the past 8 years. The Oak Park Together candidates led by John Hedges are pledged to working with the library, parks and schools (which together represent well over 80% of your tax bill) to hold the line as well.


Posted: March 28th, 2013 7:24 PM

I don't know Mr. Wendorf but I do know the Civic Federation and admire their work. Why does it take a private citizen to tell us what our trustees should be willing to share honestly and openly? More importantly, if our tax rate is 50% higher than Evanston's, can the current Board outline for us the 50% improvement in benefits we enjoy vs. our neighbors to the northeast? Enough of the ivory tower decisions. Anan has my vote next week to bring openness and common sense to Village Hall.


Posted: March 28th, 2013 7:24 PM

I don't know Mr. Wendorf but I do know the Civic Federation and admire their work. Why does it take a private citizen to tell us what our trustees should be willing to share honestly and openly? More importantly, if our tax rate is 50% higher than Evanston's, can the current Board outline for us the 50% improvement in benefits we enjoy vs. our neighbors to the northeast? Enough of the ivory tower decisions. Anan has my vote next week to bring openness and common sense to Village Hall.

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