In Oak Park the accent is on “Park.” For as long as many of us can remember, village government has been engaged in the dilemma of “Where do we put all the cars?” For years, overnight parking on the streets was banned. Safety concerns and street cleaning were the reasons most commonly cited in support of the restriction. The ban was lifted in certain places due to the urging of apartment building owners and tenants. A by-product was the revenue the village received by selling overnight parking passes.

Parking got to be such a money machine that village hall officials decided to expand into constructing parking garages and acquiring properties that they developed into lots.
Oak Park became car-friendly. Unfortunately, our “friend” took advantage of us. Last year we learned that mismanagement and inept contract negotiations involving the Parking Division is draining the village budget. We’re now in a multimillion-dollar hole and it is getting deeper.

There’s plenty of blame to go around but the responsibility for this mess falls on President David Pope and village trustees Ray Johnson and Greg Marsey. These officials failed to ever request an annual audit of the Parking Division or demand accountability from then-village manager Carl Swenson or then-finance director Greg Peters.

Tom Barwin, the new village manager inherited the deficit and has been trying to right the ship. He has proposed increasing fees for the garages, lots and meters, but the new revenue will be just a trickle compared to our ocean of debt. Barwin’s plan will cost a lot to implement, but there’s no money to spend to purchase the technology that is needed for his “vision” to work. Sounds like another boondoggle that will do more harm than good.

One of Barwin’s proposals that the village board is ready to enact later this year is going to be a slap in the face for residents. Our-of-towners visiting their
Oak Park friends soon will be required to purchase a nightly pass for $5. If they plan to stay at your home for a week, they’ll have to fork over $35. Residents who, for a variety of reasons, may have to park in front of their homes overnight will also be socked with the $5 nightly fee. Barwin claims this plan is going to generate $300,000+ annually, but adds that it is going to be implemented on a trial basis for a year. I’m not buying that! This is going to be set in stone, and you can count on the fee being adjusted upward. Pope and his clumsy cronies blunder and we get the bill.

Businesses and their employees and customers are about to get socked with increased charges to park in the village’s garages and lots. Parents attending after-hours activities at
OPRF High School are going to have to pay in the village-owned garage on

Lake Street
. The faculty parks for free in the garage thanks to their savvy negotiator. So taxpayers are forced to subsidize the facility. I wonder who was the legal eagle looking out for the village’s interests during these contract talks? Let’s hope Swenson took that genius with him.

One area Barwin is not seeking to tap for revenue is the free parking offered at village hall. In fact, I called his offices about this matter and was curtly informed by one of his underlings that they were not considering charging employees to park at village hall and “never, ever would.” Barwin and his staff are either arrogant or ignorant. My guess is it’s likely a little of both.

If they are not going to explore the feasibility of implementing this plan for its obvious revenue source; then why should we trust that they are doing all they can to right the ship. At the very least, let’s hear why they oppose it. The matter deserves to be discussed. Let’s demand some backbone and independence from our elected officials. They campaigned and were elected on a promise of fiscal responsibility. Let’s see it in action!

I strongly urge that before the trustees impose this nightly parking penalty on homeowners, they demand an end to the free ride at Village Hall. People working and shopping at businesses throughout
Oak Park pay to park. Students who drive to OPRF and Fenwick high schools have to purchase parking passes. If it makes sense to charge them, why should village hall staff be exempt? We are told that village employees are well compensated for their work, so economic hardship shouldn’t be an issue. It’s certain there are significant maintenance and snow removal costs associated with the village hall lot. Taxpayers should not be asked or required to subsidize any additional free parking. How can the people imposing the fees be permitted to avoid paying their fair share? It probably won’t make the trustees many friends among the village staff, but times are tough.

A significant stream of revenue can be realized immediately if this plan is implemented. Fees for employee parking passes can be deducted from paychecks. It shouldn’t be a labor issue since free parking is not part of any bargaining unit’s contract. I would recommend that some discount be provided to
Oak Park residents who are employees of the village. This is similar to the increased rates imposed upon non-residents who use our overnight garages and parking lots, swimming pools, skating rink and community center facilities. It pays to live in Oak Park, and if you don’t, you pay more. In addition, the plan could help encourage employees to car-pool, ride-share, bike, and walk or use public transportation. This is also in keeping with the trustees’ emphasis on “greening” the environment.

Non-resident employees likely drive to work and go straight home when their day ends. They are shopping, dining, etc., in their own hometowns and neighborhoods. They are not contributing much to our economic health and need to pay extra if they are using our parking facilities. It’s the
Oak Park way and no one should be exempt. Urge them to move to Oak Park. There are many homes, condos and apartments here that need tenants.

Parking meters and pay stations can be installed at village hall and the surrounding neighborhoods. Drive or walk past there now and the streets are clogged with parked cars. It’s all village employee vehicles. No parking permits on any windows. This whole area is off-limits to solving the parking fund crisis. The only people who park for free while at work are the very people who demand that everyone else pays. That policy should be justified. Hundreds of thousands of revenue dollars could easily be generated by applying the fee structure equally. It is time to end free parking at village hall for all employees.

Village-owned vehicles (squad cars, trucks, etc.) should be exempt from having to display a permit. Visitors and persons doing business at village hall can be directed to areas designated for free or reduced rates. Everyone has to share the costs. These are cold hard facts. Perhaps we could try it for one of Barwin’s favored “trial periods.”

Our elected officials and Village Manager and Village Clerk should lead by example. Think about the freebies they are giving themselves the next time you fork over your money to purchase a parking permit or the $5 fee for a single overnight pass.

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