Don't get us wrong. Regional cooperation among local governments is a good thing and the West Suburban Consolidated Dispatch Center is a prime example. This is the venture that links police, fire and medical dispatchers in Oak Park, River Forest, and most recently, in Elmwood Park. Municipalities working together should save money and time, allow use of up-to-date technology, and, provide good service to taxpayers.
But getting there, accomplishing the benefits of consolidation, is not always easy. Our extended report last week made clear that the dispatch center has its problems. Not insurmountable but real.
There is evidence that this critical department has not been fully staffed in its entire 3-year existence, that staff is working a significant amount of overtime, and, in the written newsletters of the department's managers, that there exists some problems with morale. It's also clear that adding Elmwood Park into the equation has proved more challenging and strained resources more than anticipated.
That's what our report said. That's all it said. Can these problems be solved? We assume the answer is yes.
In the meantime, any talk of adding another town, Forest Park has been mentioned, to the mix should be put on hold.
Parks, township partner
A more promising example on the cooperation front is Oak Park Township and the park district working together to create new space for Senior Services.
We've noted several times before that the park rec centers are underutilized, so it makes a great deal of sense (if you're going to keep them all) to turn one or two into specialized facilities. And a senior center certainly needs easy, ground-floor access.
Though it's important to keep in mind the distinct role of individual taxing bodies, it's also critical that, with limited resources, governments work together to benefit the entire community. This looks to be a prime example of how such cooperation can pay dividends.
The district's referendum has passed, and there are clearly many areas needing attention, but senior services is a good place to start.
However, this can only come about if the district has full ownership of the buildings. We're encouraged that there seems to be strong support for turning over these assets to the district on the part of the village and hope this will happen quickly. It's one of the least prickly issues on the village board's overflowing plate.
Village funding for the parks is obviously still an issue. But it would be nice to see the board complete this transfer, so the seniors can benefit.
Good department development
"Economic development" has, quite strangely, become a politically-charged term in Oak Park, conjuring bad memories of 12-hour-long, contentious Plan Commission meetings. And, over the years, it hasn't helped that a village department bears the same name and carries the "build-at-any-cost" stigma.
So even though it may seem at first to be a superficial name-switch, we like Village Manager Carl Swenson's proposed new "Planning and Community Development" department.
Oak Park's economic development staff has rightly focused exclusively on spurring development. That was what was right for the times. Now, however, the department should reflect Oak Park's new-found obsession with planning (an obsession we find healthy, as long as it doesn't lead to too much process and too little action) in addition to its continuing interest in supporting the business community.
The name (which we like) and the scope of the new department are both in store for some tweaking. But on first glance, it looks as though the village is moving in the right direction.