The Oak Park Board of Trustees is moving forward with its goal-setting initiatives earlier this month and plans to establish two new advisory bodies – a task force on efficiency and a commission on aging.
Trustees made it clear that the task force on efficiency is not solely focused on the topic of consolidating the village and township governmental bodies, but they all noted that it is a topic they intend the taskforce to explore.
The topic of consolidation, a subject that has been discussed for years, has resurfaced in recent months as Oak Parkers have become increasingly vocal about the rising tax burden in the village.
Consolidation was discussed at a recent meeting of the ad hoc, resident-led Oak Park Property Tax Watch group, which met earlier this month at the Oak Park Public Library.
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said in a recent interview that Illinois has over 7,000 units of government, more than any other state in the union.
He said he hopes the task force, which has yet to be formed, “lets us know if consolidation makes sense.”
“If the community sees a benefit [to consolidation], then it’s up to the village to find that out,” Abu-Taleb said.
Many who support the idea of consolidation point to the 2014 consolidation of the city of Evanston and its township. The city released a white paper in August 2016, noting that the consolidation saved the municipality $780,000 in the first year.
Trustee Bob Tucker referred to the savings in Evanston in a recent telephone interview, noting that the initial savings to that village were greater than expected.
He said the task force will look at anything that creates efficiencies to the village’s bottom line.
“It think we’re all interested in having that conversation,” he said.
Trustee Jim Taglia, who served on the Oak Park Township Board of Trustees for six years, said the goal is to find efficiencies, but if it leads to an exploration of consolidation “then so be it.”
“It’s important that as elected officials that we recognize and never forget that our obligation is to the taxpayers, not the taxing bodies,” he said.
The commission on aging will pursue a different goal of better understanding and connecting to Oak Park’s aging population. The commission was spurred by a community meeting held by Abu-Taleb earlier this year to discuss aging in the village.
Trustee Simone Boutet said in a telephone interview that people are living longer and more productive lives “and we, as a village, need to make sure we’re making decisions that take that reality into consideration.”
She said that includes decisions concerning zoning, infrastructure and service delivery.
Trustee Deno Andrews said that many aging Oak Park residents are now struggling to stay in their homes because of the rising tax burden. He hopes the commission investigates a “pathway for people to live their whole lives here.”
“I think we have a real need for that, and it should be a part of the planning process when we are building our village,” Andrews said.