Setting the record straight on village spending

Opinion: Columns

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David Pope

Two years ago my wife, Beth, was approached and asked to become the global marketing director for a leading international microfinance organization, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and it would have entailed the eventual relocation of our family.

Had she accepted the position, and had I remained as village president, we would have lived apart for 18-24 months. As we began to look at alternatives, Beth asked whether I might consider stepping down and, if so, who the best person would be to become president. I gave her a two word answer: John Hedges.

As the current campaign got underway, I didn't expect to be offering a public endorsement. But recent ill-informed statements have led me to conclude that an endorsement is important for our community.

I place a lot of emphasis on fact-based decision-making. Too often the facts are orphans in the political rough-and-tumble of election campaigns. Unfortunately, public policy is sometimes driven by statements, made in the heat of political campaigns that, while popular, have no basis in reality. This can lead to horrible subsequent policy-making (please see Washington D.C. and Springfield for examples).

The current race has rightly highlighted increasing property taxes as one of the key issues facing our community. Our stature as the most successfully diverse city in the country is fundamentally jeopardized by the dramatic increase in our property tax burden, which is driving out low- and moderate-income residents, fixed-income seniors and persons with disabilities, and increasingly middle and upper-middle income families, singles, and empty-nesters.

To meaningfully confront this issue, however, you've got to be willing to start with the facts. Since 1990, the tax burden imposed by our six local jurisdictions has grown at nearly twice the rate of inflation (5.41% vs. 2.75%). That's entirely unsustainable. But it is also largely unrelated to the municipal government of the village of Oak Park.

The village's levy has increased over time. However, if you look at the portion of village spending that is locally controlled (removing pension contributions, as these are entirely controlled by the state government), you get a very different picture.

Up-to-date audited figures show that the locally controlled portion of village government's general-fund spending has actually gone down over the past eight years from $42.1 million to $41.1 million (2004 to 2011). Village staffing levels have decreased by 21% (from 481 to 380 employees). Even more impressive in this time of fiscal austerity, the percentage of residents rating the village's overall quality of life as good or excellent has increased by statistically significant amounts from 81% in 2004 to 90% today.

We're doing better because we've made good policy decisions, executed them well, and have kept the political silliness to a minimum. Further, we've set the stage for continuous improvement with the adoption of a comprehensive performance management system that will provide transparent and objective evaluation of our progress, helping us identify when and where we need to make adjustments.

In a March 20 article, the Journal quoted Anan Abu-Taleb as saying that he's running for president "because our government needs some financial discipline." Anan also said he wants to "cut back spending levels and increase efficiency, but didn't name specific departments or services he'd change." These comments indicate that Anan doesn't genuinely understand the current financial circumstances of the village, what has been achieved over these past eight years, and how our municipal government is poised to move forward.

Stock political truisms and bumper-sticker leadership, while provocative and at times politically effective, are of absolutely no value in establishing a thoughtful course forward for our community. Statements suggesting that our property tax challenges can be singularly addressed by a president willing to make "hard decisions" reflect real naivety and a fundamental lack of understanding that the village only controls 10 cents of every property tax dollar.

There is a place here for continuing leadership, specifically from the president. It is in furthering the ongoing work with our fellow Oak Park taxing bodies to create integrated, five-year financial projections, to implement structures that improve accountability and transparency, and to plan for responsible expenditures and investment, with an eye toward each taxing body's impact on the cumulative tax effect on all of our residents. John Hedges gets this. It's become clear that Anan does not.

We can complain all we want about the local property tax burden, but until we all take the time to understand and correct the real drivers behind recent property tax increases, they won't change. Having worked alongside my board colleagues for the past eight years to rein in village spending and implement improved performance management, I know that John Hedges understands this. He has helped our community to achieve unprecedented results.

On April 9, he'll have my support, and I hope he'll have yours too.

Reader Comments

50 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 6:58 PM

@Betty, I'm sorry what U inferred from my comments. I hope my very specific comment regarding what fund I was looking at, clarified it for you. I chose that fund since, in the Village's own words, "The General Fund is the principal operating fund of the Village." (page 13) Re: this practice of shifting money here, there, everywhere, aka transfers..it is a convoluted, smoke and mirrors, lacking in giving a clear financial picture of an entity, accounting practice. That's a whole other discussion.

Gary Schwab from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 4:44 PM

I'm out of town and really don't want to spend much time on this, but: Most of the TIF money that's been spent by the Village came from other taxing bodies, mostly the schools. They've had to collect more because the Village took their money for "pie-in-the-sky" projects. The Village CANNOT show that TIF expenditures have had a net positive return in terms of increased taxes. If they could, they would.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 4:23 PM

There's a surplus in the Village's Parking fund?

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 4:10 PM

For Pope to use the CPI as a comparable metric for General Fund Expenditures in order to make the case that taxpayers saved over $43M (2004-2011) is entirely inappropriate, especially during the Great Recession time period. Not only is it inappropriate, it is misleading and deceptive. Village revenues were flat during most of this time period, and with the State of Illinois requirement for balanced municipal annual budgets, I am not sure the village had much choice but to reduce expenditures.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 4:01 PM

@JBM As just one tiny example: When you think you're doing "ecommerce" on the Village website, like buying a vehicle sticker, you're not. All it does is generate an email to an employee who then does your order manually. And it didn't sound like that was going to change for the new website launching in the fall. (hope I'm wrong). Things like this add up, and make government highly inefficient and costly, as you point out.

Betty  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 4:01 PM

The statement you make refers to the total revenues that come into the village and the total expenditures for the budget. The general fund is one of many. If there is a surplus in parking and can be transferred to something else, then there is NOT a deficit on the yr!! Understand.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 3:59 PM

It is disingenuous for Pope compare the village's tax rate to other taxing agencies, by stating; "Since 1990, the tax burden imposed by our six local jurisdictions has grown at nearly twice the rate of inflation (5.41% vs. 2.75%). Since 1983, the DTOP TIF District alone has diverted more than $100M from these six local jurisdictions, resulting in two lawsuits (D97, D200) and various referendums to compensate for loss property taxes.

Jim Coughlin from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 3:57 PM

John, which VOP employee positions would you target to be eliminated or offered reduced wages? Oak Park has to offer competitive salaries in order to attract individuals who have the required skills and an interest in public service. I do agree you with about the Village's misadventures in this information age. Hopefully, those lessons have been learned. We can't afford another million dollar mistake and be stuck with no way of being able to solve the problems.

Enuf is Enuf from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 3:49 PM

Due to Oak Park's inherent location and residential property tax base, it is virtually impossible to have a poor bond rating. Moody's current downgrade to Aa2 rating with a negative outlook that "reflects a lack of progress in improving the village's overall financial profile" is embarrassing. Also, Pope's assessment only included the General Fund, which accounts for 45.5% of total expenditures, excluding Water, Sewer, Environmental Services, Parking, Fees and the Capital Budget.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 3:44 PM

@Betty, Look @ the document (2013 Budget dated Dec 10, 2012) Trustee Adam Salzman provided a link to (see below). On page 6 of the document, there is a bar graph entitled "General Fund Trend--Revenues and Expenditures" for years 2001 through 2011. The blue bars are revenues, the red bars are expenditures. 7 of the 11 red bars (expend.) are higher than the blue bars (rev.). $$ in reserves is not "revenue." So pulling $$ out of reserves to cover overages, doesn't negate the fact that E exceed R.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 3:22 PM

Bridgett ?" Here is another piece of village info that offers a start to a solution to the OP fiscal problem. The 2000 Census shows that Oak Park has about 2,000 fewer residents than Berwyn. Using 2011 actuals, from both municipalities shows that in total Oak Park has 97 more employees than Berwyn. Oak Park has 394, Berwyn has 297. Both have about the same number of police and fire personnel (Berwyn +6). Without the Police and Fire employees (DPW, Standards, village management, etc.) Oak Park has 176 employees versus Berwyn's 78 ( 56%). If Oak Park reduced manpower to Berwyn's level and assuming a very conservative average annual salary with benefits of $25,000 the savings would be $2.5 million a year. Many people would jump to the conclusion that the village's employees were not productive. I don't think that is the issues. I believe strongly that the excessive amount of Oak Park employees is caused by archaic business processes and a computer system that is not only aged, but has been maintained been maintained improperly.

Betty  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 2:59 PM

Expenses DONT exceed Revenues. What dont you understand?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 4th, 2013 2:25 PM

Being almost $100 million dollars in debt, with expenses consistently exceeding revenues, with low reserves, and the belief that debt is good b/c money is cheap to borrow, is a "non-issue?" I know that some don't value anyone's opinion about government unless they have worked in government, but as an accountant for over 20 years, I am going to give my opinion anyway: This *is* an issue. And the fact that one doesn't think it's an issue, is an even bigger issue.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 10:42 PM

How do you know what an appropriate level of debt is for Oak Park? I know $100 million is a lot of money in an absolute sense, but as a total amount of debt outstanding for a Village this size, it isn't. If it were, our bond rating would not be the highest in Oak Park's history. Debt service is scheduled to fluctuate between about $3 and $5 million per year for the next 20 years -- much of that comes from revenue generated from the assets, like parking garages. I don't remember all the numbers exactly, but I think we had $99 million in debt when I took office and about $90 million four years later. This is totally a non-issue. Alright, that's it for me tonight.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 10:30 PM

@Jon Hale, Correct, these are not budgeted numbers. They are actual numbers. So "yes," to my question. Yes, the Village has spent (not budgeted, but actually spent) more money than they took in for 7 of the last 11 years on record.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 9:37 PM

Jon Hale - I don't disagree with your analysis of debt used for General Fund purposes. Perhaps John Hedges was referring to transfers between different Oak Park financial accounts, but he was clear in stating that if the reserve could not handle a budget deficit, debt would be a solution. The board has stated that it is a possibility that debt and private funds could be used to complete the DTOP project.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 9:30 PM

Hi Duh, I calculated the 2011 $4.5M interest on debt payment using information in the Bond Servicing Company's summary of OP Debt. I have not been able to confirm the calculation using the Oak Park 2013 Budget Report. The report does not break out interest on debt for the General Fund. I was able to find that the the TOTAL Oak Park interest on debt payment was $4.3M in 2011.. For the 2010 to 2012 years, the total interest paid was $36.8M or $9.2 million a year. Anyway you cut it, a near 100M debt and debt service of 5 to 10 million dollars is a significant problem that will eventually impact the General Fund and probably the amount of taxes residents will be asked to pay.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 9:10 PM

@Bridgett; I think what you are looking at is what actually happened after a fiscal year was over, not the budgets from those years. In any given year, the Board has to estimate how much revenue will come in. When I was on the Board (2007-2011) we pressed the finance director hard to make sure he wasn't making overly optimistic assumptions and because of the recession we certainly didn't want to raise taxes, so there were a couple of years when realized revenue slightly trailed expenditures, and yes, the fund balance can make up for that. It's normal, though. There is no truth to the idea that the Board has issued debt to pay for general operations of the Village. And the Board doesn't budget expenditures higher than anticipated revenue.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:52 PM

Correction: The graph is on page 10 of the PDF, and a page labeled 6 on the hard-copy. Also, I do see some helpful pie charts and tables in the Budget Summary, Section Two, starting on PDF page 34, hard-copy page 30.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:41 PM

@Jon Hale, My question was (and is) has the Village spent more money (expenses) than it has taken in (revenues) in 7 of the last 11 years? & you R saying that it's not technically a deficit b/c they pulled money from reserves. I looked @ the 2013 budget that Adam Salzman provided a link (218 pages long--is there a summary somewhere?). On page 10 there is a graph. And yes, to answer my own question, expenses exceeded revenues for 7 of the last 11 years. 2002,3,4,6,8,9,11 (2012 #s aren't in yet).

Helen from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:03 PM

I've known Jon Hale for years. He is brilliant when it comes to numbers and finance. I'll take him any day over random comment posters with no expertise in this area. My vote: John Hedges for Oak Park President.

Duh  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 7:47 PM

The operating budget and debt dont necessarily have anything to do with one other. You can borrow monies for capital projects, etc, that are NOT in your yearly operating budget.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 6:20 PM

Re Jon Hale's post to Bridgett, " the Village cannot run deficits." Jon is correct, but the village can take debt to make up for expenditures exceeding revenue. In 2000, the village had miniscule debt. Today, it is nearly $100M debt. A leading bond credit service stated in a report dated December 2012, that Oak Park Village's debt rating was in danger of being lowered. They stated, "The negative outlook is based on continued lack of progress in addressing the deficit net asset positions and limited liquidity in several of the village enterprise funds. The outlook also incorporates significant negative budget variance in village's General Fund operations as well as sizable unfunded pension liabilities. Problematic is the amount of the OP General Fund interest payments on the bonds. In 2011, it was about 9% or some 4.5 million dollars." John Hedge stated that the village keeps a low cash reserve because money can be borrowed if there is a shortage. While budget expenditures are given a lot of attention, it is revenue that is the real problem. After 23 years of investments in commercial developments which should lower taxes and improve services, the opposite has occurred. Revenues from 2000 to 2012 have shown no meaningful growth.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 5:07 PM

Bridgett from Oak Park - I share your desire to see a new, fresh, and effective website, but I am a bit jaundiced about what we will get. The article was missing a startup date, since provided by Trustee Salzman - in the fall, any mention of an improved search engine, and no specifics on the data base that will drive the site. Navigation is challenging and the search engine useless. My sense is that the problems are caused by poor business process - uncommon and undefined, and an aged data base that crashed in 2008 and was jerry-rigged. The Village President said at the time that the "fix" should last until 2010 and replacement was the best choice. Without an effective, common, interactive data base a website can be improved visually and navigation improved but that's about it. I hope I am wrong. I really think Oak Parker's deserve a first rate system.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 5:06 PM

@Bridgett, the Village cannot run deficits. If it has a fund balance (aka cash reserve), it can use that to cover revenue shortfalls in a given year. For the past six years, the Board has spent about what it has taken in and modestly increased the cash reserve. Any debt that is issued goes to pay for long-term capital improvements. This spreads the cost out so that those future taxpayers who will receive some of the benefits from the capital improvement share in the cost. Virtually all outstanding Village debt has also been refinanced at today's generational-low interest rates, so debt service has never been cheaper. The Village has a 1% sales tax, same as River Forest; Forest Park's is 0.50% and Cicero's is 1.5%. We have a 6-cents/gallon gas tax, which is equal to Chicago's, that pays for on-going street maintenance. There are other fees for services and parking. In my experience, people vastly underestimate the complexity of municipal finance, which is why I don't support complete newcomers running for local office with no relevant background. I think that's one reason why D200 has extracted about $120 million MORE than necessary from OP-RF taxpayers over the past eight years ?" because its board members were unable to provide effective oversight over D200 finance officials. That's where all the local outrage about taxes should be placed. I'm not bashing education; I look forward to my kids attending OPRF. But according to the Chicago Civic Federation, a fund balance should be no more than about 17% of a government entity's operating budget. For OPRF that would be 17% of a roughly $68 million budget, or about $11.5 million. People ?" OPRF has a fund balance of more than $130 million!!!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 4:46 PM

Hi Adam - No offense taken. 1) I think you read my post too quickly. I did not say that the board had manipulated the revenue data. What I said was the President Pope manipulated the 2013 Budget data to create a political chart that misrepresented the actual budget expenditure reporting. The chart was used in his support letter for John Hedges. I find that unethical, Pope must see it as standard political gamesmanship. Maybe he should have displayed revenue on the chart. That would have created a nifty appearance of a village general fund surplus. 2) The only data I have used in my analysis was from the 2013 Oak Park Budget Report. There were occasions when estimates were used and I clearly stated "estimate." There were times when I used budget data to create meaningful comparisons; for instance OPV manpower vs. Berwyn etc. I did that without changing the base data. 3) As far as being unfair, dishonest and making accusations that are not true, I do take some offense at that statement. I do most of my writing on Wednesday Journal Comments. I have made thousands of posts and yes I have made mistakes. When that occurs, I correct my mistake and apologize. There are many regular posters on Comments that could confirm that. 4) The only question I asked about the web page was When? You answered "in the fall." Question answered. Best Regards, John

Adam Salzman from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:48 PM

John Murtagh, I hope you know I mean this with the deepest respect, but your assertion that pension obligations were cleansed from the Village Budget in order to paint a rosy picture is patently false. Our pension obligation was in no way excluded from Village Budget discussions or the finally approved budget document. Here's a link to the Village Budget: http://oak-park.us/public/pdfs/Budget_Finance/2013%20Budget/2013-budget.pdf On Page 10, you will find an overview of pension revenue. On page 11, you will find a summary of Pension Debt. On page 202 you will find a pension summary. On page 206 you will find general fund expenditure trends both WITH and WITHOUT pension costs. On page 207 you will find a chart of annual pension expenditures. John, you are more than entitled to your own opinions- you are not entitled your own facts. Imputing to the Village a desire to scrub the budget of troubling information is unfair and frankly dishonest. I suspect that you are smart enough to know that this accusation is not true. I would urge you not to let your desire to stir the pot override what I think is, at root, a core commitment to fighting fair. The fact is, as detailed above, there are multiple graphic, verbal and numerical representations of the overall impact of the pension obligation on the Village's total debt. However, to Bridgett's point about the website, I agree- we absolutely need to make this information easier to access and sift through. Our Monday, 4/1 meeting represented a big step toward improving the online accessibility of all Village financial information. We are working to have the new site online as soon as possible- hopefully by fall at the latest.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:42 PM

@JBM, I think Kevin's point was that he believes that looking to the Village as a way to lower property taxes is not wise, since the Village isn't the recipient of most of the property taxes. However, what some residents, who are only looking at their property taxes, are missing, is how economic development strongly impacts other sources of income for the Village and other entities. Economic development is a major issue. Not the only issue, but a major issue--at least it should be.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:29 PM

Bridgett - the fact that education is the biggest expense item for Oak Park and all communities of its size is not new News. In the U.S., it has been that way since the 1800's. During elections, it is not unusual to try to transfer all financial blame on schools. It distasteful but not uncommon.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:25 PM

Thanks, John Butch Murtagh. Wouldn't it be super duper when the new Village website is launched, that info like this could be easily found? Or maybe WJ can revamp their website, set up as a *forum,* rather than a string of comments that get forgotten, as there is NO WAY to efficiently follow a conversation older than an hour, since navigating back to a story is the equivalent to finding a needle in a haystack ...in the woods...in the dark. Good grief.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:16 PM

@Jon Hale (finally spelled your name correctly. Sorry about that), I am curious about pensions, in your comment and what JBM says about the 2013 budget presented to the public. Just because one doesn't have control over such a line item doesn't mean you don't include it in your budget or in the discussion. As an example, I have no real control over my property tax bill, but it's still a line item in our household budget. I still have to pay it, so I better figure out a way to do so, right?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:15 PM

Bridgett - the data used in the 7 of the last 11 years with expenditures exceeding revenue came from the 2013 Oak Park Budget Report. Also taken from the report is the fact that the Oak Park general fund expenditures for 2013 is 15% above 2010. Inflation during the 2010-2013 period was up 5%.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:09 PM

I'm pondering John Hale's comment that the Village has other revenue sources besides property taxes. I think that's an important thing to unpack in order to get a full picture. To know what are the other sources, and how much control does the Village Board of Trustees have in generating revenues. When looking at a balanced budget, with healthy reserves, other than raising taxes, what are other ways the Board can increase revenue? And have they been successful in doing so, in recent years?

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:09 PM

Voodoo Budgeting joins Voodoo Economics. The village board and staff met for six months last hear doing a 2013 budget. In December, a Budget Report of 50 pages or so was reviewed and approved by the board. At the budget meetings and in the report, there is no mention of Pope's revision to the budget that eliminated pensions as a budget item. The bogus analysis produced by Pope and hardily supported by ex-board member Hale confirms what many believe. All financial data made public in OP are cleansed for PR/election purposes. That is; they make up information as they go and hope no one will question them. Those days are over in Oak Park. Anan, if elected, would never support that behavior.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 3:00 PM

Oh, and the Park District is 5% of property taxes.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 2:48 PM

Kevin Young is right that the majority of property taxes goes to the school districts. For Oak Park, it's 65%. 2.5% to Triton, 34% to D97 (pre-K through 8), 29% to D200 (the 4-year high school with $133 million in reserves). The D200 race is an important race, folks.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 2:38 PM

@John Hale, Thanks for your answer. And yes, the library has its own line item @ 5.28%. So, while the expenses are lower than they have been in the past, are they low enough? I hear that The Village has run a deficit (expenses are higher than revenues) for 7 out of 11 years. Is that true? By how much? Is this a relevant piece of information? Just trying to fully understand the fiscal landscape of the Village.

Circle Jerk from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 2:26 PM

In other news, the old VMA still supports the new VMA. Old VMA says "The new guy with the same bad ideas as I had is terrific...." VOTE FOR A NEW VOICE, VOTE ANAN

Question from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 1:35 PM

So if you want higher property taxes and parking fees, vote for Hedges? Is that right?

Steven Rouse from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 1:32 PM

Well done David. John is the only candidate in the race that has the knowledge and experience to lead the village.

Kevin Young from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 12:55 PM

Anyone with a basic understanding of local taxes knows that more than 85% of your tax bill does not go to the village. That money is for the schools and the park district. The village has cut its spending! It's always amusing to hear someone say "cut spending" in the Village without daring to say what should be cut.

Jon Hale from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 12:35 PM

@Bridgett -- I'm going from memory here (as I'm a former trustee), but the claim that the Village share of your property tax dollar is 10 cents to 11 cents, refers to the Village operating budget, not including pensions. Increases due to pensions are mandated so without changes at the state level, there is little we can do to control costs. So the higher 13.5% figure includes about 2.5% that goes to pensions. (It MAY also include the Library -- I can't remember if that's broken out on the property tax bills.) As another commenter pointed out, the Village has other revenue sources than just property taxes but Pope is right to say that Village spending is down in absolute terms AND way down in real terms. In fact, when I was on the Board, one of the reasons we cut general fund spending was because we knew pension costs would keep rising and impact your property tax bills.

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 12:20 PM

Sometimes you have to look at the past to understand the future. The 1990 Oak Park Comprehensive Plan stated: "As the cost of services continue to rise, three alternatives are available: 1) place the increased tax burden solely on current residents and businesses, 2) INCREASE THE TAX BASE AND MINIMIZE THE TAX IMPACT ON RESIDENTS AND BUSINESS OPERATORS, and (3) reduce the quality of services to all parts of the village." It went on to say, The Village of Oak Park strongly prefers the second alternative, and thus establishes it as PRIMARY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT GOAL." For twenty-three years, the tax burden on residents and businesses have increased, the quality of services in the village have been reduced, and the primary economic goal development has FAILED creating a debt burden that not only penalizes the taxpayer, but restricts the funding of future development. Village expenditures have exceeded revenue in 7 of the last 11 years, village debt which were miniscule in 2000, are near $100M, the 2013 budget exceeds 2010 by 15%, and it cost 25% more per resident in Oak Park for village services than it does in Berwyn. You get a choice in this election. You can merrily trip down the road of Voodoo Economics and accept the board's claim of Fiscal Responsibility or you can vote the for a leadership change. To believe that changing VMA presidents will change the VMA boards approach to financial development is to act like a witness to Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

Arol Gance  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 12:10 PM

While reading this article I was just finishing feeding a homeless man out of a bowl made out recycled teak wood manufactured by tribesman financed by a micro finance company who will now not cut down the rain forest to make a living. Enough about me, what do you think about me?

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 11:34 AM

Thank you David for discussing the facts. I will miss your leadership and vision that is visible throughout the Village. And with the hard work of the OPT team and volunteers, and informed voters, John will be your successor!

Jackie  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:59 AM

Recall that VMA Pope and crew jammed through the TIF extension against popular support because of the damage it does to our schools, and then proceeded to stiff the schools, push D97 into financial crisis, and forced D200 to court to get someone's attention. Is that the leadership you were talking about David? Not quality or honest fiscal stewardship.

Another Joe from Oak Park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:48 AM

Single family home values are on a rapid rise right now in Oak Park. Most Condo values are flat across the spectrum (except townhomes and larger condos). The Village board has been VERY proactive in housing and have been the catayst for state wide legislation in 2009 and 2010 regarding condo financing. FYI you can buy a home in berwyn for 90K the same home 300 ft away in OP is 275K. Oak Park is doing it right.

joe from south oak park  

Posted: April 3rd, 2013 8:24 AM

If the village budget has remained flat over the last nine years, why have fees and taxes increased so much while services are being cut? Talking with a couple of friends at work I found that several have homes in nearby suburbs valued at double what my condo is worth, yet I'm still paying more in property taxes. Meanwhile OPRF has a surplus of +100 million dollars. Sorry but VMA has to go. They have enjoyed too much power for too long. the same goes for the old guard at the school district

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: April 2nd, 2013 11:33 PM

In typical fashion, President Pope used 796 words when a simple 50 word endorsement would have done the job. Truth is; this was not an endorsement of John Hedges. It was Pope's endorsement of himself. It was his opportunity to remind us of his decade of political glory. It was his final OP Kumbaya moment. I suspect that Hedges campaign, already nervous, got shivers when they read the Pope endorsement. Does John Hedges agree with Pope Voodoo Economic Theory that pensions are not liabilities requiring payment, if you can find someone else to blame. The theory might be beneficial to residents when their budget is out of whack. If you can't pay for the apartment, and car, and credit cards, and trips to DC, balance your budget by not paying your taxes. In closing, all I can say is: Sertus, Madison Highlands, the Opera, Madison Avenue's destruction, TIF Funds, Lawsuits, Red Bricks, $100M Debt, Remediation, Colt, Whiteco, Leaky Sewers, and Pigeons.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: April 2nd, 2013 11:26 PM

Ok, I know that what I'm about to ask is only teeny tiny itsy bitsy related to what David Pope wrote, but I'm going to ask again (as I did on another thread last week). What is the percentage of our property taxes that goes to the Village? I've heard John Hedges say, once, 11%, I've seen him write, twice, 11%, and I see David here write 10% (ten cents on the dollar). And yet I'm looking at my property tax bill (2nd installment 2011) and it says, "Village of Oak Park...13.48%." Anyone? Bueller?

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