The heads of three village departments appeared before the Oak Park Village Board’s Finance Committee again this week to justify their expenses.
But with only a few weeks left before the completion of next year’s budget, it appears unlikely that major cuts will take place over the next year.
Representatives of the Public Health Department, Public Works Department and Office of Adjudication Services made their cases to trustees that their respective departments are operating as efficiently as possible.
Village President Anan Abu-Taleb emphasized that Oak Park government must find ways to cut costs and voiced concerns that staff were biased in defending their departments from cuts.
Public Works Director John Wielebnicki told trustees that many of the functions of the department — such as garbage removal — already have been outsourced, and sending more government functions to the private sector or reducing the number of in-house engineers from nine to six could end up costing the village more in the long-run.
Wielebnicki said there is a value to maintaining an institutional knowledge within the department, which is lost when the work is sent to contractors.
“They know where that water valve is that everybody has been looking for,” he noted as an example. He argued that the engineers in the department are professional and a “loyal group of folks.”
“I don’t question that,” Abu-Taleb said. “We just don’t have an unlimited amount of money.”
The board also questioned whether the village needs its own Department of Health, which handles a number of responsibilities, like restaurant health inspections, which could be assumed by Cook County.
Abu-Taleb said the Department of Health operates at a $600,000 deficit annually. He suggested considering hiring an outside consultant to give a review of the department to find where cuts could be made. He recommended that the department find creative ways to reduce its costs, or possibly establish new fees.
The health department, which handles restaurant safety inspections, for example, could charge the businesses that are in violation for each re-inspection.
“If the inspector comes over and over again, then the business pays for it,” Abu-Taleb, who owns an Oak Park restaurant, told Margaret Provost-Fyfe, director of the department. “If you think creatively about what can be done to maintain a good level of service and help that deficit, it would be good for all of us.”
Village Manager Cara Pavlicek said she and staff would explore the ramifications of making the department as an enterprise fund, where users pay fees for service, rather than earmarking funds from the general operating fund of the village.
Pavlicek said after the meeting, however, that establishing an enterprise funding structure for the department would likely not be possibly until next year’s budget cycle.
Trustee Colette Lueck suggested the village review other municipalities that rely on other governmental agencies for services now provided by the village’s Department of Health to determine whether “they are getting good, quality service.”
Robert H. Anderson, director of the Office of Adjudication Services, and Oak Park Police Chief Rick Tanksley argued that elimination of local ordinance adjudication would cost the village more in police overtime because cases, which would be tried in Cook County Circuit Court, would require in-person testimony from officers. Under the current adjudication structure, Oak Park police are not required to appear in court for most cases.
Anderson has noted in past Finance Committee meetings that the circuit court also would take a larger percentage of the fines collected for parking, traffic and other violations.