Oak Park is considering teaming up with three neighboring communities in the near future, searching for ways to share services and potentially slash costs.
The village announced last week that it’s starting a “formal dialogue” with River Forest, Elmwood Park and Forest Park to figure out if the four communities can collaborate to save money. The talks are very preliminary, but top officials from all sides are “intrigued” by the concept. Each community has similar needs in terms of police, fire, training and customer service, they say.
“Unlike some recessions where you just kind of wait it out, and it ebbs and flows, I don’t really think there’s anything to wait out at this point,” said River Forest Administrator Eric Palm. “The economic reality we live in is the one we’re going to be in for a while, so I think it’s incumbent upon us as public administration officials to try to find better ways to become efficient with our tax dollars.”
Oak Park, River Forest and Elmwood Park already share dispatch services, but the four communities want to see if they can collaborate at a higher level — possibly through purchasing, training and services.
Barwin suggested that they start looking at other similar ways to collaborate, and is coordinating a meeting, planned for July. The process is expected to become more formalized in the coming weeks as the communities set a framework and schedule for the discussions.
The four communities will likely start small, with the “low-hanging fruit,” such as joint purchasing, before exploring big-ticket items such as firefighting.
“All of us realize that to keep our communities viable, strong and healthy, and to do everything we can to keep the tax burden down, we should, from time to time, get together and focus on what new opportunities may have emerged,” Barwin said.
Palm said Oak Park and River Forest already work together in multiple ways, including sharing technology and health functions. He thinks this effort is just a way to further deepen that partnership.
John Dalicandro, village manager for Elmwood Park, gave credit to Barwin for getting the talks started. He sees chances for the four communities to band together on purchasing but doesn’t see things headed toward cross-community police or fire departments.
Forest Park Administrator Tim Gillian did not immediately return a call on Monday seeking comment. But in a press release, he said the four communities sharing ideas was a “logical next step” because of their close proximity.