Clearing the smoke around River Forest Township merger

Opinion: Columns

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By Rich Schuler

Here's the real reason for the proposed annexation of RF Township:

The River Forest Park District (RFPD) has now enlisted some members of our village board and the village president to once again attack the River Forest Community Center (RFCC) and attempt to take over the community center building. They have a new plan under the guise of "fiscal responsibility" to rid the RF taxpayers of the evil empire on Madison Street. 

There is no doubt that an educated RF electorate can see through this ruse. I mean when you start to look at a way to cut your business or home budget, you always look to the lowest number on the book (township tax burden is less than 1% of the RF tax bill), especially if that number has the smallest increase in the last 13 years (13% versus 62% for the Village of River Forest). Tom Cargie says we can lop $200,000 off the township's budget (projected to be $591,000 for 2014). He hasn't mentioned how, though he has mentioned publicly that he wants the building. 

 Look, let's have a discussion on this issue, maybe even a referendum. Can we see the end of what seems like a biannual event? If we are going to debate the issue and vote on it, let's be honest about what it is. 

The question should read: "Do the taxpayers of River Forest want the RFCC to be taken over by the RFPD?" Simple, right? Then we can decide if we want the RFPD to use our tax dollars to subsidize the programs presently offered by the RFCC. 

Those services are currently provided to RF and surrounding communities with no local tax dollars. The RFCC is supported entirely on user fees. It actually pays rents to the township for its facilities, maintains the facility and is the sole contributor to a fund set aside to do major renovations like a new roof. Just a perfect example of the "inefficiencies" of your township.

Now let me be honest here. I served on the board of the RFCC for over five years. During that time, the recent recession hit the RFCC hard. Our enrollment in programs was down significantly, the budget was dramatically affected, and emergency funds were almost depleted. 

During the same period, we were under negotiations with the township over a new lease. The township wanted to increase our rent and begin funding the major projects account. The RFCC staff scrambled and worked hard to find other avenues of revenue. They secured some underutilized space and rented it to a group called Opportunity Knocks. 

The staff agreed to rework their payroll structure and sacrificed automatic pay raises for bonuses that took into account performance and the fiscal position of the Community Center. These measures allowed the RFCC to continue providing its services, the township to strengthen its investment in the building, and it costs the taxpayers nothing.  I have a hard time believing this could be accomplished at the village or park district level.

The people on the other side of this issue have a strong background in community service, and I have worked with them often in volunteer situations. I am certain they feel that they are doing the right thing as surely as I do. Let's just discuss the same issue, make a decision and move onto more important challenges presented to our community.

Rich Schuler is a lifelong resident of Oak Park and River Forest and has served as a board member of the RFCC, OP-RF Chamber, Roosevelt Road Advisory Committee and the Oak Park Tennis Center.

Reader Comments

2 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

Long time resident RF-Molly from river forest  

Posted: May 21st, 2014 10:17 AM

Math Skills - your summation is very accurate. I attended the Township Budget meeting last night and asked several questions about the finances. I was asked to put them in writing and they would be answered, as they could not be at the meeting. The RFCC collects OK rent, the Township has a budget line for OK at $10,000.00 why doesn't the Township just give OK the space and cut out the RFCC? And all the RFCC rent payments go back into a capital fund to fix the building the RFCC occupies.

Historian with Math Skills  

Posted: May 21st, 2014 7:23 AM

Rich, you're a smart man, but I wonder about your math. Let's do the math. RFCC pays $44K for rent, charges OK $27K to sublease a portion of the RFCC,which according to my calculator that is 61% of the RFCC entire rent. Let's be conservative, and say that OK pays utility too, so % is more like 50%. The Township, according to their budget, pays for a building manager at $68K w benefits, so $85K. It seems that RFCC wins,OK loses :( and RF REALLY LOSES.Where do you get RF taxpayer pays nothing?

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