Oak Park’s Taxing Body Efficiency Task Force is in its fifth month of meetings and will soon discuss whether or not to include an advisory referendum on the November ballot, asking voters whether the village should further study consolidation with the township.
The seven-member task force, which is headed by former Village President David Pope, was formed earlier this year to find where cost savings could be found by consolidating services between taxing bodies, including the village, Oak Park’s school districts, park district, township and library.
That could include the oft-raised question over the years of whether the village should merge with the township or another taxing body, such as the library or park district.
Asked whether the task force had discussed the topic of consolidation with the township, Pope said in a telephone interview said it is “one item that has been raised.”
“We haven’t gotten into a ton of detail other than to talk about viability and feasibility and also the fact that there would need to be some public support for structural changes that would be recommended from a governmental perspective,” he said.
Jim Peters, who describes himself as the “civilian member” of the task force, said he expects the task force to take up the issue of consolidation of the township at its next meeting set for July 10 at 7 p.m. at Oak Park Village Hall, 123 Madison St.
Peters said the task force will discuss whether to put a referendum on the ballot in November asking the question of whether the various taxing bodies should further explore consolidation.
Such a referendum would be advisory and not legally binding, meaning that the Oak Park Board of Trustees could choose whether or not to pursue the recommendation irrespective of the vote’s outcome.
Pope said the task force has invited guests to present their thoughts on various topics including government consolidation.
Jane Grover, a former alderman with the city of Evanston, gave a presentation about their consolidation of the township and city government in 2014.
That decision saved the city $780,000 in the first year, according to a study put out in 2016, but Grover said in a telephone interview that it might be a different story in Oak Park.
“My experience is that townships in Illinois are apples and oranges,” she said, noting that services vary from township to township.
She said some offer infrastructure improvements such as road maintenance, while others are operate as social service agencies.
“No two are alike,” she said.
Oak Park Township offers a variety of social services, such as lunch and transportation programs for senior citizens, substance abuse programs for youths and assistance with tax assessments, among others.
Grover said the consolidation of Evanston Township and the city required special legislation in Springfield as well as a binding referendum vote from the public.
Even prior to consolidation, Evanston’s township board and city council were made up of the same officials. Alderman there served in both roles, she said.
“In Evanston, I was elected as city alderman but also [concurrently] as a township trustee, so I wore two hats. The city council would convene … and then reconvene as the township board,” Grover said. “That made it easier for us to get on the ballot the two referenda, because it didn’t require separate township approval.”
Such a decision might be different in Oak Park, where the village board of trustees and township board are two separately elected bodies.
Grover said some of the savings in the Evanston consolidation came from relocating employees from township offices to Evanston’s civic center and from salary savings and benefits expenses. She said the city of Evanston is experiencing millions in long-term savings from the consolidation.
“We became more efficient and saved money and improved services to residents who needed them,” she said. “So by those measures our … consolidation was a success, and I think that’s what the voters were hoping for.”
More information about the Taxing Body Efficiencies Task Force is available on the village’s website at www.oak-park.us/your-government/village-board/taxing-body-efficiency-task-force/.
The task force is soliciting comments from the public, which can be left on the website.