I was saddened to learn that former Oak Park Township Assessor Bill Shafer died on Jan. 10.
I first met Bill in 1993, in the last of his 12 years as Oak Park Township assessor. I was 26 years old at the time, and was making the first of three quixotic efforts to win a seat on Oak Park’s village board. The person who gave me a primer on the ever important issues of economic development and property taxes was Assessor Bill Shafer. I found that Bill was very knowledgeable about local tax issues and more than willing to share his knowledge, even with a candidate who was very wet behind the ears.
After my unsuccessful runs for trustee, my electoral fortunes changed when I ran for township assessor. In the nearly 10 years since my initial election, I have become very cognizant of the important groundwork Bill Shafer laid for his successors.
Because township assessors in Cook County do not assess properties, it is easy for Cook County township assessors to keep a relatively low profile in their communities. But this is not the case in Oak Park, and the reason has much to do with Bill Shafer. During Bill’s tenure, the Oak Park Township Assessor’s Office was transformed into an office that was actively involved in the life of the community.
One of Bill’s many innovations was the practice of mailing information about the assessment process to new homeowners, a practice that the township assessor’s office has continued for the last 30 years. These letters have slowly but steadily raised the profile of the office, resulting in ever increasing numbers of Oak Park residents using the township assessor’s office for help with tax appeals, tax exemption applications and other tax-related problems.
Bill also began the tradition of township assessors speaking out about public policy issues that involve taxes. The controversial tax increment finance District (TIF) in downtown Oak Park was created while Bill was assessor, and he was not shy about raising concerns and gathering data regarding the TIF. Indeed, Bill’s prolific TIF recordkeeping was so good that in 2009, 16 years after leaving office, the information Bill gathered enabled me to play a helpful role in resolving one of the many TIF-related controversies among Oak Park’s local governments.
It is said that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. But the death of a respected taxman brings to mind another certainty: Bill Shafer’s willingness to help his community with taxes will be remembered long after his death.
Oak Park Township Assessor