After more than 20 years of support, the village of River Forest on June 8 quietly closed its pocketbook to the Oak Park Township’s Youth Interventionist Program, which pairs young people at risk of becoming involved in gangs, violence and substance abuse with “interventionists” who work with them and their families to address issues early on.
The village has been involved in the program since its inception in 1995, and the program has traditionally received support from all 11 taxing bodies in Oak Park and River Forest.
“We believe it’s an established, mature program that’s been going on for 23 years, and it clearly now should be taken over by the township itself and budgeted by the township,” said River Forest Village President Cathy Adduci, adding: “We also want to let the township run this program and not be burdened by another level of government oversight and government spending.”
Last year, the village of River Forest contributed about $16,000 to the program, Adduci said.
“We encourage [the township] to make it a priority in their budget,” she said, when asked how the township should deal with the funding shortfall.
Adduci said the program better fits into what the township levies taxes for — human, youth and senior services — rather than what the village collects taxes for — fire, police and public works services — and, as such, should fall solely under the township’s jurisdiction.
“We’re not saying we would we would never help each other,” said Adduci. “The village absolutely wants to work together on efficiencies wherever we share resources.”
Carla Sloan, River Forest Township Supervisor, said the village’s argument doesn’t doesn’t hold water since it’s a community safety initiative related to law enforcement.
“When crime comes to our communities and it does relate to youth, then it does touch our police,” Sloan said. “Now with the resurgence of crime again in River Forest, the issues don’t go away. … Yes, it has succeeded on many fronts, but I don’t think that challenge is over. A large reason for referrals is the number of mental health issues and trauma is really growing.”
Sloan said she’s not only disappointed with the village’s decision to cut funding to the program but also felt confused about the announcement, since the village never listed the topic on any public agenda.
She said she had been asking Village Administrator Eric Palm for weeks when it would be discussed at a village board meeting, so she could attend, answer any questions and talk up the program. Palm later told her it didn’t need to be discussed at a village board meeting because it was an administrative decision, she said.
“If you look at what all the other taxing bodies are doing, all 10 others across River Forest and Oak Park, it’s on the public agenda at every meeting,” she said.
Sloan said it won’t be easy to replace the lost funds, and that the township will be able to make up about 30 percent of the village’s former contribution. The rest she hopes will come from private donors.
“It was really a very, very small cost to them to have a stake in youth safety,” Sloan said of the village. “The program is a very cost-effective program. If you can ward off more expensive interventions later by having less expensive interventions sooner, I think that’s probably the right way to go.”