The Village of Oak Park’s Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force presented a wide range of recommendations to the Oak Park Board of Trustees at the Oct. 1 board meeting, including a moratorium on tax hike referendums until 2030, containing all property tax hikes to CPI and creation of a citizen-led financial oversight commission that would monitor and advise all taxing bodies while also educating residents on municipal finance issues.
David Pope, chairman of the taskforce and former village president, presented the report to trustees, noting that rapidly rising property taxes, which have substantially outpaced both the rate of inflation and the growth in household income, are forcing residents out of the village.
“It poses risks to both current Oak Park residents and to the long-term viability of Oak Park’s core values of diversity, affordability and integration,” the report notes. “More recently, we’re seeing this increase in our taxes as a significant impediment to the ability of residents being able to age in place as people are increasingly being taxed out of their homes.”
Oak Park’s increase in property taxes also has “dramatically outpaced other communities and is putting Oak Park at a competitive disadvantage,” according to the report.
The task force was established earlier this year by the Oak Park Board of Trustees and has been viewed skeptically by other taxing bodies, such as Oak Park Township, Oak Park Public Library and the Park District of Oak Park, primarily due to the discussion of consolidating those taxing bodies under the umbrella of the village.
In July, the Oak Park Board of Trustees voted to put an advisory referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot asking: “Shall the merger and consolidation of Oak Park taxing bodies be considered, including, but not limited to, the Village of Oak Park, Oak Park Township, the Oak Park Public Library and the Park District of Oak Park, to determine if there would be efficiencies, the elimination of redundancies and/or property tax reduction for the residents of Oak Park?”
That ballot question is not legally binding but will give the Village of Oak Park direction on whether to pursue consolidation of the various taxing bodies.
The recommendations from the task force, released on Sept. 30, go much further than consolidation, though, calling on taxing entities to limit tax levy increases to the rate of inflation or less, constraining salary increases for public employees and creating a new citizen-led Community Financial Oversight Commission.
It calls on governing bodies to not pursue future tax-increase referenda through 2030. This comes as Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 is working on drafting a long-term facilities plan that may require the need for a multi-million referendum at some future date.
Residents and trustees commented on the report, but the presentation was more of a listening session than a debate about the finer points of the white paper.
David Yamashita thanked the taskforce for its work on the report, and said he is one of the residents who is considering leaving the community because of the rising tax burden.
“I do not want to leave this community; the taxes are going to be a huge drain on my retirement – I don’t think I can afford it,” he said.
He added, though, that he thought the proposed referendum is “misleading” but praised the recommendation of creating a financial oversight commission.
Trustee Deno Andrews also congratulated the taskforce on its work, saying that the discussions on reducing the tax burden need to take place.
“I’m disappointed about the propaganda online about the intent of all of this,” he said, adding that many have claimed that the consolidation aspect of the report is an effort by village government to consolidate power.
“Nowhere in the referendum does it mention that the village is in charge of (which government entity would oversee such a consolidation),” he said.
“What disappointed me most is how aggressively people don’t want to know the truth,” Andrews said.
Similarly, Dan Moroney said he hopes every elected official in the village reads the report and “tries to think holistically” about spending in Oak Park.
“I hope we adopt pretty much everything you guys said,” he said.