Elected officials in Oak Park and other local leaders have long aimed to bring representatives from the village’s various taxing bodies to the table to help reduce the tax burden on residents.
The idea of intergovernmental agreement on big-ticket expenses has become a regular topic at candidate forums amongst the five candidates running for village trustee – candidates frequently point to I-Gov, an informal group of officials who meet periodically throughout the year to discuss budgets and finances.
I-Gov is usually attended by representatives of Oak Park’s two school districts, Oak Park Township the library board, the village board of trustees and the park district.
Candidates running for village trustee in Oak Park have different visions on what role I-Gov should play in the future.
Candidate Deno Andrews has said throughout the campaign that he believes the various boards should sign an intergovernmental agreement that would require representatives of the various taxing bodies to come to the table when discussing big-ticket expenses that might have a negative impact on the other taxing bodies.
He said I-Gov should establish a “stop-gap measure” of some sort that would legally allow those representatives to block costly projects that could have a substantial impact on taxes.
Andrews noted that the village of Oak Park’s current plan to install blue-stone sidewalks as part of its forthcoming streetscaping project would be an example of an expense that all the taxing bodies should discuss before the village signs off.
Candidate Simone Boutet, a former village attorney, said she also would like to see greater cooperation between the taxing bodies, but that the idea of establishing a legal mechanism to allow one taxing body to prevent another from taking action is not legally possible.
“That’s nonsense and that’s not going to happen,” she said, adding that it’s “goofing with the electoral process” and calling it “naïve and unrealistic.”
She said it does make sense for officials to continue to collaborate through I-Gov meetings, particularly in an era where the state budget has been in limbo. “[I-Gov] need[s] to be a leader in getting the community talking to each other on ways to share on capital improvements,” she said.
Trustee incumbent candidate Glenn Brewer also noted the important role I-Gov has to play in reducing the tax burden, but binding the hands one taxing body over the other is not legally feasible.
“You have to take into consideration the legal constraints that each of the taxing bodies operates under and how they get funding and how that might not be possible to impose legal requirements that would be against state law,” he said.
Brewer quoted his running mate, incumbent trustee candidate Peter Barber: “It’s really difficult for me to walk into your house and tell you how you should treat me.”
“The better way to do it is through cooperation, consensus and dialogue,” Brewer said.
Dan Moroney has, perhaps, been the most outspoken critic of I-Gov on the campaign trail, saying at an Oak Park League of Women Voters candidate forum in early March that the forum “was intended for meaningful collaboration and has devolved into something that is more patting each other on the back and informing each other.”
In a more recent interview, Moroney that he does not believe the dialogue at I-Gov meetings is “critical or meaningful.”
He acknowledged that he has attended one I-Gov meeting and a candidate forum held by the group earlier this year.
Moroney said the other taxing bodies should “not have veto power” over one another through I-Gov, “but at least should get input, so they’re not acting in their own silo.” Moroney, who is running with Andrews on an unofficial slate for the village board, also noted that the village’s $20 million streetscaping project should be put before the other boards in the village for consideration. The same goes for referenda, Moroney said.
“I think it would behoove the taxing bodies that are proposing referenda to get input from the other taxing bodies,” he said, adding that he believes the high school pool proposal would have been approved by voters if the various taxing bodies had publicly supported it.