Oak Park's finance committee eyeing costs

Village board questions health dept. and evaluates adjudication department

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

With an eye on next year's Oak Park village budget and looking for ways to cut government costs, members of the village board's finance committee Monday put tough questions to the heads of the Public Health Department and the Adjudication Services Department.

The adjudication department, used to process local ordinance citations issued by police and village staff, is relatively new at village hall. However the Public Health Department is a long-standing fixture even as other municipalities have eliminated local health departments. Transferring both services to the Cook County government on a fee basis has been informally discussed in recent years at village hall.

Robert H. Anderson, director of adjudication services, said his department is the central hub of the citation process in the village, processing citations such as parking tickets, traffic violations, building code violations and those involving curfew, nuisance and damage to village property, among others.

In a report to the finance committee, Anderson made case for local adjudication: The village keeps all revenues rather than splitting them with the county; police overtime is reduced since officers are less frequently required to attend local hearings and do not have to travel to the Maywood courthouse; and there is some convenience for local people who receive citations.

However, Trustee Adam Salzman was not convinced. Salzman said the presentation did not give a clear illustration of the costs associated with the adjudication department versus the benefits. Salzman said he was concerned that the information the committee was receiving was coming from a perspective of advocacy and suggested bringing in a third party to analyze the potential savings possible through reductions in the department.

Anderson told trustees that the village issues about 75,000 ordinance citations a year and collects about $2.5 million in fines, the majority of which are from parking tickets. The village spends, he said, $540,000 annually on costs in the department, most of that in salaries.

He said that if the village were to eliminate the adjudication department and send the work back to the Cook County circuit court, the amount collected could be cut in half as the revenue would be shared.

"The circuit court would take 53 percent off the top, and the village would receive 47 percent," Anderson said, noting that the amount could be further reduced by additional fees. 

Anderson suggested that elimination of the adjudication department could mean fewer cops on the streets because adjudication law judges in the village typically do not require officers to appear in court.

"This would not be the case in circuit court," Anderson said in the memo, adding that the cost in police overtime could run more than $100,000 a year.

He said in the memo that transferring the citation hearings to the circuit court would reduce administration costs to the village by an estimated $190,000 annually.

Village President Anan Abu-Taleb told Anderson that the committee's inquiry into the cost associated with the department was a preliminary discussion on how to reduce spending.

"When I look at your budget and we spend $600,000 on your department and collect $60,000, no business would stay in business if they were losing $540,000 a year," he said.

Margaret Provost-Fyfe, director of the Department of Public Health, also gave a presentation to the committee, telling trustees that the village budgeted $798,519 from general funds in fiscal year 2013 and received revenues from restaurant inspection fees, animal licenses and other fees totaling $138,392. The village also spent $32,155 on the Oak Park Farmers Market, also under the purview of the health department, and took in revenues of $25,942.

Because the village runs its own health department, rather than letting the state or county handle the work, it received $317,356 in various grants.

She said the health department in 2013 conducted inspections of 250 food establishments, responded to 235 resident requests for rat control, issued 3,100 animal licenses and provided inspections of tattoo and tanning salon business.

An early projection for the department's 2015 is $956,397, Provost-Fyfe told trustees.

Trustee Peter Barber questioned whether some of the duties the department assumes are necessary, such as inspections of tattoo and piercing establishments.

"I am trying to figure out which are mandatory (as required by the state) versus which we took on over time," he said. "Food protection I get it. Rat control I get it. Animal control I get it. The rest of these I'm not real clear on."

He asked village staff to give a comparison on how other communities, such as Berwyn and Forest Park, handle such inspections. 

Contact:
Email: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

27 Comments - Add Your Comment

Comment Policy

john murtaGH from op  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 11:11 PM

I don't see the Finance Committee cutting anything to the bone. What they are doing is digging to find those items that are no longer needed, too expensive to keep,etc. There is plenty to cut without hitting muscle much less bone!

Resident  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 9:57 PM

Cutting services to the bone is not good for Oak Parkers. The State and County can't handle the work they have. While you are at it Anan, how about cutting my taxes?

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 31st, 2014 10:33 AM

Mose, state law requires the village to hold a meeting annually to review the TIF annual report. The CFO reviews it and answers any questions from the public. I went to the last one (summer or fall 2013). Email the village clerk to get on the mailing list for notice of this meeting. I agree, 24/7, up to date info should be the goal, but until then, we have this opportunity. Also if you have specific questions, email the board at board@oak-park.us

Mose from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 11:09 PM

John, don't waste time with such nonsense. I'm sitting right here in Oak Park wondering why residents still don't get real transparency from our government officials. Pope and Johnson should no longer able to block every request to open the TIF books but the suspect policy continues. How can we be sure that millions of tax dollars have not been squandered on consultants, waivers and deals? It's happened before at Village Hall. TIF monies involve major expenditures without oversight. That stinks!

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 10:00 PM

I suspect that Mose is from Glen Ellen.

Mose  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 9:37 PM

Bridgett, I was seeking examples you might view as evidence that our elected officials are forthcoming. Perhaps that applies when the information relates to some basic expenditures but is hardly the case when it comes to hiring experts, waivers and favors. The fact that no elected official has argued for TIF books being available 24/7 for public inspection is also a real concern. Tens of millions of tax dollars spent without transparency, accountability or oversight. We can't follow the money.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 8:04 PM

"Who's been paid? How much? For what?" Is there something specific you are asking about? I'm not clear what you are asking.

Mose from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 7:46 PM

Educate me, Bridget. I am unable to recall an occasion when one of our Village officials has demonstrated a real committment to transparency in government. A few may offer lip service at election time but aren't forthcoming when it comes time to speak up against wasteful and excessive spending on consultants, no bid contracts or very special deals they arrange for insiders. Refusing to open TIF books is this board's policy and practice. Who's been paid? How much? For what? Who knows? Do you?

JRMURTAGH from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 6:54 PM

Bridget and Mose ?" For info, transparency is defined as clear, candid, open to the public, accountable, straightforward, and most important impartial. Based on the definition, I am on Mose's side. I don't think OP meets the standards of the definition. I also think the weakest of all characteristics for OP is "impartial." There are busy channels of info that benefit people with partisan interests. I would give OP 40% for transparency, well below most communities.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 5:37 PM

@Mose, I have found our elected officials to be forthcoming with information that I have sought from them. Also, all meetings, including these Finance Committee meetings, are open to the public. And, all the financials are posted online. Even a bi-weekly accounting of all the bills paid, to whom, and for how much.

Mose from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 4:44 PM

Bridget may be right but she can only rely upon select information that the Village President and trustees deem to be suitable for release to the taxpayers of Oak Park. Ask for specifics from a single one of them regarding the how much they fork over annually to consultants, no bid contracts and sweetheart deals for their besties. See if there is a Village official willing to demand that TIF books be open for public inspection. The truth is hidden behind the doors at Village Hall

JR murtagh from OP  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:49 PM

Bridget - Thanks you are probably right. The timing with flushing of Fed Money into the states is right. If it is grant money, it is a shame that it can't be saved for future use. That does not fit with the Fed's desire to get grants into the economy fast.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:29 PM

@jr I wonder if the budget increase is tied to an increase in grant money. While I appreciate grant money, sometimes is can cause us to make projects, departments, etc. blow up bigger than they really need to be.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 2:03 PM

If you look at the budget, the revenues that the Adjudication Dept shows is $60K. The $2.5 million in revenues is reflected in other parts of the budget, like Parking, Police, etc. So while I understand Mr. Anderson's point about what it would cost if we handed it over to the County, it's misleading (and confusing) to say that his department brings in those revenues. And I think Mimi brings up good option--rather than the County (and their high cut), how about sharing with other municipalities?

Jim'e'  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 1:57 PM

What I find frustrating is that our trustees suggest spending money to consultants to only support well founded facts. Gee, Saltzman, really? I got a ticket and was sure glad I could deal with village hall and not cook county. It would be a financial boondoggle to sent adjudication back to the county and be very inconvenient to the residents.

Confused Also from Oak Park  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 11:10 AM

Hey Confused, I am with you. Something is missing here. I would think that we are spending $540k to collect $2000,000 in fees. Not sure where the $60k is coming from. Something isn't clear in the reporting.

OP res 456  

Posted: July 30th, 2014 7:44 AM

On the same note jr, why is the health department's budget projected to increase by $158,000 next year? That's over a 10% increase projected for next year.

jr MURTAGH from OAK PARK  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 11:11 PM

Hi Bridget - While you are asking some questions about Public Health Budget, it sure would be nice if someone the Finance Committee or Department to explain why the 2010 budget of $641 was increased by 62% from 2010 to 2014. That's a lot of band aids!

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 10:17 PM

And now looking at the Health Dept: Budget has 10 FTEs, and a million-dollar budget. $638K in salaries, $287K in benefits, $101K in contractual services, $13K in materials & supplies. With $140K in revenue and $278K in grants (though two items were TBD, and this article quotes $317K). Been around since 1948, and only one of four municipalities in Cook County with its own certified health department.

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 10:02 PM

While this story is not complete, I appreciate it raising questions. As an example, "The village spends, he said, $540,000 annually on costs in the department, most of that in salaries." According to the budget, that department has only three FTEs. Director, Exec Secretary, and Hearing Clerk. Those three make $204K combined, with $70K in benefits. Then $213K is contracted out. And $55K is for "materials and supplies." I'd like to see a detailed accounting of this department.

Mose from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 9:54 PM

Here we go again! Vital services that demonstrate proven benefits for the entire community are on the chopping block by the trustees while there's no mention from any of them of actually cutting back on paid consultants, sweetheart deals for well-connected pals and no-bid contracts. The players may change but the results are still the same. Residents and businesses get the shaft but friends of those calling shots will always be able to cash in.

Gail Moran from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 9:29 PM

I believe some context may have been left out of the meeting (frequently the case when you have to condense your reporting to few words), but I am worried and want more information on the financial, as well as the tangible and intangible costs to residents of Oak Park of these considered cuts. And, this is not a "done deal" yet - public input should be a paramount consideration of the Board.

Also Confused from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 9:04 PM

Well, you can't expect Abu-Taleb to know what departmental budgets and revenues are, right? Not like *it's his job* or anything. But what do you expect from a guy that can't even follow a simple, long standing procedure for appointing committee members.

Mimi Jordan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 8:52 PM

Rather than transferring adjudications to the County, why not make it a shared service among neighboring communities. It would streamline costs but still make it convenient for residents and police to attend hearings.

Keith from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 8:19 PM

There is no reason Cook County cannot take over the Health Dept. Their overseeing of food is questionable at best and other services within that dept. could also be handled by the County. Personally, I think both departments could be eliminated with little loss to the Village.

Confused from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 5:51 PM

This article reports that Anderson claims VOP collects $2.5M in fines while Anan claims VOP collects $60K. That's a pretty large discrepancy. Are they really that far off or is this an error in the article?

Bridgett from Oak Park  

Posted: July 29th, 2014 4:18 PM

Wow. These are two big line items. I appreciate the finance committee and the tough questions they are asking. And I agree that having a third party analyze both departments is a sensible move. While I don't take any joy in people losing their jobs, I don't believe the role of government is to employ people to fill unnecessary jobs.

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