You ever notice that Oak Parkers are conflicted? No, not just that we disagree about an issue. But conflicted, as in a therapist suggesting you lay back on the couch and talk about what your parents did to you.
Taxes are too high. But tall buildings that might mitigate those taxes change the cozy-wozy factor of living here. The schools cost too much but we keep passing tax hike referendums. This village has too much government. But raise the option of actively discussing ways to cut back layers of government and it is attacked as a power grab.
Come on, people.
Monday night, Oak Park’s village board approved placing an advisory — as in non-binding — referendum on the election ballot that, when you take out the extraneous words, comes down to: “You OK if our ad hoc committee keeps studying the pros and cons of whether our little burg needs six different units of government? If you say yes, then we’ll meet some more and get back to you.”
How can an over-taxed, hyper-ventilating Oak Parker object to that?
The Taxing Bodies Efficiencies Tax Force has been meeting for months, always in public, trying to find ways to cut costs by fostering collaboration among the village government, township, library, parks, elementary schools and high school. Some set of recommendations is forthcoming that fall somewhere between cooperative Bic pen purchasing and a hostile takeover of the township’s Oak Park Avenue offices.
So we say, yes, to the referendum and then we say, “Prove it!” Township government has been the low-hanging fruit of government consolidation debates for at least two decades. Wednesday Journal has been thumping that drum all that time. But the tax force needs to demonstrate that actual tax dollars would be saved if township services were moved to village hall, that small but critical services such as General Assistance would have a safe harbor, that, over five years, lesser-paid township employees wouldn’t be earning more typical village government wages.
There are options short of outright consolidation that ought to be fully explored, too.
The concern over explosive growth in property taxes and fees is legitimate. Conflicted Oak Parkers need to turn out en masse to support this referendum and to send an unambiguous message to elected officials on every board that active, structural change is the only option.