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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.