Two local school districts and Oak Park Village Hall are still battling it out in court, and the total bill for their attorneys is now approaching $650,000.
This February will mark two years since Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 sued village hall in a dispute over the village’s tax increment financing district (TIF). Elementary school District 97 was added as a defendant in the lawsuit in the summer of 2010.
The three sides have been meeting with a $500-an-hour mediator outside of court since June, trying to resolve the dispute. Thus far, they’ve met three times, most recently on Oct. 17, dishing out about $20,000 to the mediator, according to a D97 spokesman. All told, the governmental bodies have spent about $648,000 on outside attorneys in the long-running dispute.
Village Manager Tom Barwin, who spoke strongly against the lawsuit previously, had little to say last week (the three sides have agreed not to talk to the media until the dispute is resolved).
“I don’t think anybody is happy about it, but it is what it is,” said Barwin, whose administration has spent $331,038 on lawyers so far, according to a Freedom of Information Act request.
Wednesday Journal reported in June that D200 is eying more than $2 million that the village allegedly owes from its downtown TIF, a fund created in 1983 by freezing property taxes at a certain level and using future tax revenues above that amount for development and infrastructure projects in a designated area. While the village and D97 long ago came to a financial settlement on the TIF, the elementary schools were added as a defendant in the lawsuit, since it also signed the 2003 agreement.
D200 Superintendent Steven Isoye declined to comment Monday, saying through email, “There is an agreement not to discuss this matter at this time beyond the three parties. So at this time, I am unable to comment.”
Thus far, D200 has spent $209,036 on attorneys in the case.
D97 Superintendent Al Roberts was unavailable for comment on Monday, but spokesman Chris Jasculca said no further mediation sessions have been scheduled at this point.
Peter Barber, president of D97’s board, said he’s hopeful the three sides can reach a “favorable” conclusion. He declined to discuss the particulars of the mediation sessions, but said it’s “unfortunate” that so much taxpayer money has been spent on lawyers, including $107,585 by D97.
“I could think of dozens of things that the community would like to see that amount of money invested in, other than resolving a lawsuit,” he said.