By John Hubbuch
Earlier this month Oak Park was named one of the Top 10 Best Towns for Families by Family Circle magazine. Like the Best Cheeseburger in Chicago or The Fattest City in America (always somewhere in the South) these awards are either entirely subjective or based on cherry-picked metrics that are easy to manipulate. No one takes them seriously.
Except certain Oak Parkers. The posted responses to the reported story were largely negative with lots of serious bellyaching about Oak Park's high property taxes. Maybe it's the heat of a brutal summer, but I've had enough of pissing and moaning about these taxes.
Oak Park's taxes are high, but they're not too high. To be clear, I don't know much about commercial property taxes. It wouldn't surprise me if the number of vacant business sites in town is in part a result of high taxes. But as for residential taxes, let's take a look at whether they are too high. One of the big reasons our taxes are high is that we always vote for referenda — the high school, elementary schools, parks and library have all passed referenda in the last 10 years or so. I suspect The Mosquito Abatement District could get an increase if it only asked. For those of you who aren't tax savvy, successful referenda raise your taxes. If you don't believe me, ask Ali ElSaffar, our assessor. So you can't really say your taxes are too high if a majority of residents keep voting to make them higher.
There's another reason why our taxes are high. We live next to … I don't know how to put this … well, a ghetto. Our crime is higher than some places. So we have to have more and better cops than some places. This vigilance resulting from our geography requires more money to be spent for code and traffic enforcement, business development and other good stuff. And then we have to educate kids from across the race and income spectrum — from kindergarten through high school. We have two pools, a conservatory, lots of parks, and an awesome library. Our taxes pay for them.
Oak Park property taxes have been high for a long time, yet surveys and elections indicate most Oak Parkers like living here. The same party has been in power here for longer than Castro was Cuba's dictator. So complaining about your Oak Park real estate taxes is like complaining about there being too many gays or African Americans, or too many restaurants, or too few Republicans. Taxes are part of who we are, and they help keep it that way.
So if the property taxes really are a big deal to you, know that for most of us your whining reminders that our taxes are high are really annoying. We know they're high, but not too high. So please give it a rest.
Or better yet, move.