When you are charged with cutting a million bucks out of a municipal budget, sometimes you get tangled in the weeds. You have to nick a load of programs and/or find ways to grab off new revenue from many sources to reach that sort of target.
Oak Park’s village government staff received that direction as it crafted this year’s budget and tax-fretting trustees wanted a lesser tax hike. The goal was achieved. But most every budget cut has a constituency and when it comes to independent local businesses they are not shy about speaking up.
It happened last month when local business associations discovered their pretty paltry $15,000 matching fund for holiday decorations across the village had evaporated. It was restored by trustees after a small uprising.
Now a more notable hullaballoo is gathering force as business districts, including downtown Oak Park and the Harrison Street Arts District, are being billed for the first time ever for a theoretical loss to the village of parking revenues when business groups mount events.
That sound you hear is the village board caving. Rightly caving.
The village government loves when business district’s sponsor feel-good, business building events. In downtown those include the summer-long Thursday Night Out which draws 500-800 people a week. Also, the local craft beer festival. Both are held largely on a one-block stretch of Marion Street. That street was remade a decade ago for the specific purpose of being closed off regularly to host such events. The Arts District, meanwhile, has been holding its What’s Blooming event since 1999.
Recently, downtown received an unexpected invoice for $6,300 to compensate for lost street parking revenue. As its director rightly points out, those visitors parked somewhere in downtown, likely in the underused, village-owned parking garages. Meanwhile, Harrison Street does not currently have parking meters along its main strip. That did not prevent an invoice for $1,200 in lost parking revenues.
What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. No way the Arts District has $1,200 sitting around to send to village hall. Even the reasonably well-funded downtown special service area has a budget that does not include random bills for thousands of dollars.
Multiple trustees are already asking for more details from staff before they inevitably capitulate. The sooner the better.