Property taxes in Oak Park are already high. Now the park district wants to pass a referendum to raise its tax rate. Why should residents vote to raise taxes any more?
The main reason is that our parks are out-of-date, falling apart, and way behind what other communities offer their residents. This is out of character, since Oak Parkers love their parks.
A recent survey of residents found that a greater percentage of Oak Parkers use parks and park programs than just about anywhere else in the country. Most of us can walk to a neighborhood park with a playground and open space. In our dense surroundings, the limited green space we have is valuable and heavily used. Intensive use has taken a toll on every park, playing field and park building.
Why hasn’t the park district just fixed this stuff already? The answer is simple?#34;lack of money. When the state legislature passed the tax cap in 1991, the park district lost the ability to raise taxes a little at a time to keep up with needs. The cost of health care and pensions keeps rising, so the amount of money to run programs and maintain facilities always lags behind.
Right now, the park district collects less than 2 percent of Oak Park property taxes each year. There is no way to provide hundreds of programs, run two pools, subsidize the Conservatory, keep the ice rink open and maintain playgrounds and green spaces with this amount of money.
We have reached a critical point. Either we invest now in renewing our parks and recreation facilities, or we risk losing them altogether. As anyone who lives in an old house knows, it is cheaper to repair what you have than to let it fall apart so that you have to replace it.
We don’t have to keep up with the Jones, but it is hard to explain why in a community with such high standards we would be satisfied with park, recreation and fitness facilities that barely pass muster. Please join me in voting yes to Renew Our Parks on April 5.
David T. Kindler
Oak Park Park Commissione