Three Oak Park governmental bodies — which have spent $424,075 battling each other in front of a judge — started trying to resolve a year-long dispute outside of court last week.
Oak Park and River Forest High School, village hall and elementary school District 97 held their first "mediation" session on Wednesday, June 22, in the Loop. The three sides met with mediator and former judge Julia Nowicki for about nine hours, at a cost of $500 per hour, according to Village Manager Tom Barwin.
The dispute centers on how much village hall owes the two school districts from its controversial downtown tax increment financing district, which funnels a percentage of property tax dollars away from schools and other taxing bodies. The TIF fund is created by freezing property taxes at a certain level and using future tax revenues above that amount for development and infrastructure projects in a designated area.
In its latest court filing, the high school pegs the amount it's owed as over $2 million.
Barwin declined to say what was discussed in the mediation session but said the three sides do plan to meet again sometime in July.
OPRF Supt. Steven Isoye also declined to comment on what happened last week, as the high school has decided to keep the content of the discussions private. He confirmed that another session is planned and said it's positive that things are moving forward.
"We want to ensure that the process can do what it needs to do, so we're really not commenting," Isoye said.
D97 Supt. Al Roberts also declined to comment but said he wishes they were never involved. (D97 was later added as a defendant in the lawsuit, since it also signed the 2003 agreement that extended the life of the TIF.)
"I can say that I remain hopeful that this matter can be resolved sooner rather than later," Roberts said in an email. "In my opinion, District 97 should never have been dragged into the conflict."