In its second article on property taxes, the Vision Community Action Party (VCA) addresses what village government can and can’t do to keep high, rapidly rising taxes from making Oak Park unaffordable to many:
What can the village do to reduce levies?
Between 2000 and 2005, total annual property tax levies in Oak Park increased by $49.8 million. About $4 million of that increase was in the village’s levy. Even counting money diverted by TIF districts, the village accounts for less than 20 percent of the increase. By contrast, school levies account for almost $29 million (around $19 million for District 200 and $10 million for District 97). Altogether, annual school levies grew 51 percent in five years, far faster than most taxpayers’ incomes.
The VCA pledges to work aggressively to keep the village’s property tax take as small as practical:
We will stop paying developers to build things in Oak Park; it’s clear that we can get more development than we want without subsidies.
We will review all village expenditures to ensure they are worthwhile and cost-effective.
We will rely far less on paid consultants and far more on volunteer experts from within Oak Park and authentic citizen input in decision-making.
We will reduce outside legal costs wherever possible.
We will work with school districts and other taxing bodies to combine administrative functions where appropriate and achieve other economies of scale.
We will also work with other municipalities and reform advocates to shift school costs away from local property taxes. We are not, however, sufficiently naïve to rely upon such lobbying having much short-term effect.
Can Oak Park develop our way out of high property taxes?
One of the best answers comes from Ali ElSaffar, the township assessor, who, in a recent article, describes the futility of trying to build our way to lower taxes. He explains that building a duplicate of the Sears Tower (or something else that pays $31 million in annual property taxes, because such a building would actually need to be much bigger to pay that much tax here) would reduce Oak Park taxes by as much as 23 percent once. It’s clear that if school taxes keep increasing as they have, even so much new construction wouldn’t keep our taxes flat unless we repeated it every few years. To the VCA, then, it’s very clear that any sustained rate of redevelopment that would keep our taxes flat would quickly destroy all the character that makes Oak Park what it is.
If TIF districts were eliminated, as we suggest, this would provide less than $5 million annually to the schools. Nice, but not a long-term solution.
The numbers just don’t support those suggesting that quick implementation of the “Greater DTOP Master Plan” or other grandiose schemes will keep taxes from making living in Oak Park less and less affordable.
Annabel Abraham, Jim Balanoff,
Robert Milstein, Gary Schwab
Vision Community Action (VCA)