Last month, Marsha had some of her friends over. They were really mad and not because Hillary lost. I retreated upstairs to watch CSI reruns (pathetic), but before my departure, I got earfuls of criticism from angry citizens who told me that my next column had to be about the changes in Oak Park’s parking rates.

Here are some details: In certain high-demand areas, rates were increased from 50 cents/hour to $1.50/hour. In medium-demand areas, the rates went up to $1 an hour. In addition, you have to pay earlier and later. I couldn’t figure out what all the hullabaloo was about until I went to The Lake to catch a late afternoon movie. I used to put in four quarters. Now I had to put in $4.50. A ticket to the movie at that hour costs $5.50. So I went from a $6.50 cost to a $10 cost. Not insignificant.

Everyone, of course, has their own little story, but an increase of the rate by a factor of three is a lot. Think CTA going from $2 a ride to $6. Adding insult to injury, if I somehow didn’t have 18 quarters on me, the fine for a meter violation is now $20 instead of $10. I now know why there is an increase in people limping along our streets. It’s not because of Chicago Marathon training injuries. It’s due to pockets overloaded with change to feed these suddenly rapacious meters. My son Phil maintains that Oak Park’s meters are higher than River North’s.

Now, it is satisfying to bash the current trustees as dunderheads for raising the rates and inconveniencing us, but there is a little more to the story. The village website has the 50-page Walker Parking Consultants report, dated April 2008, and the 30-page presentation the staff made to the board on May 19. I was going to read every word and give you a comprehensive report, but it was too hard and boring. Still, I think I get the gist of it.

Back at the turn of the century-in 1999-the parking fund had a $3.8 million surplus. Hurray! In 2001 a $9.6-million parking revenue debt was issued for the Avenue Garage. In 2003, the village issued $4.5 million in general obligation debt to build the high school’s garage. Two downtown metered lots and the revenue from those lots were eliminated for new construction. Security costs have significantly increased. By 2007, the parking fund owed the general fund $9 million. In eight years, the parking fund went from almost $4 million in the black to $9 million in the red.

Like the Iraq Invasion disaster, a neglected part of the story is just how did this happen? It’s not like Oak Park is some hillbilly town in Alaska where the mayor’s main claim to fame is that she shot a moose. We expect and should expect better governance. The former trustees, manager and parking staff got some serious splainin’ to do. I grow very tired of this Groundhog Day repetition of “it’s a mess, but it’s not our fault.” Somebody has to be responsible for a $13 million loss in eight years. How could this happen? How can it be avoided in the future? We need a complete, comprehensive explanation.

But wait-it gets worse. In 2007, parking revenue was $2,940,000 and parking expenses were $4,895,000. A yearly deficit of almost $2 million. By the way, that’s 10 cops and 10 firemen. It’s a mountain of salt. Something had to be done. Even with these changes, the deficit is still seven figures. The meter rate increases are projected to raise only $80,000 in additional annual revenue. Why bother? A drop in the parking bucket.

The trustees didn’t want to raise property taxes (they want to get re-elected), and so Mr. Barwin and his staff had the unenviable task of trying to begin to clean up the mess. Good luck. Either you raise parking revenues/property taxes or you cut expenses, or you do both. There is no such thing as a free lunch or, as it turns out, free parking.

Our community demands a high level of service-cheap parking, three libraries, a conservatory, two swimming pools, village-run free transportation, first-rate police and fire. These things cost money. Lots of it. You can raise revenue (increase parking rates) or cut expenses (sand instead of salt). Get used to it.

One more thing: walk.

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John Hubbuch

John is an Indiana native who moved to Oak Park in 1976. He served on the District 97 school board, coached youth sports and, more recently, retired from the law. That left him time to become a Wednesday...