The Taxing Bodies Efficiencies Task Force, established earlier this by the Village of Oak Park, released its report to the village board in early October and now aims to pitch its findings and recommendations to the village’s five other taxing bodies.

Members of the group met with Wednesday Journal staff a few weeks after releasing the report, which makes a number of recommendations, including holding the line on tax increase referenda through 2030 and establishing a citizen-led budget oversight committee.

The task force, earlier this year, convinced the Oak Park village board to approve a non-binding ballot question in the November election that asks if the village should further pursue considering merging some or all of the various taxing bodies, including the Village of Oak Park, the Park District of Oak Park, the Oak Park Public Library and Oak Park Township.

Chairman David Pope reiterated last week that the property tax rate, which has increased three times as fast as the rate of inflation in recent years, is “putting at risk some of the core elements of what Oak Park has been about for 50 years.”

The village’s diversity and affordability for various income levels is at risk, said Pope, a former village president.

The task force’s report notes that between 2015 and 2017 “the total amount or property taxes levied by all Oak Park taxing bodies has grown by 20 percent.”

Eighty-seven percent of that growth comes from school districts 97 and 200 and the village government, according to the report.

And over the last 17 years, the average percentage of median household income that goes toward property taxes has jumped from 5 to 8.4 percent.

Task force member Judy Greffin says the village needs a multi-faceted solution. “We need to live within our means, which is the Consumer Price Index,” she said, referencing the index that measures the average change of prices paid by consumers for various goods and services.

Gary McCullough, who also served on the task force, emphasized that nowhere in the report is it suggested that the village or any other taxing body reduce services in an effort to control spending.

The suggestion that the task force wants to cut services is an oft-stated position on internet chat boards, but McCullough said the task force’s mandate was to find savings. It’s believed by some that “there was a pre-ordained outcome” for the report, but the group, which met throughout most of the year “didn’t get involved to carry anyone’s water,” he said.

Among the group’s recommendations is the creation of a citizen-led financial oversight commission, but such a commission would have little impact without the support of Oak Park’s six taxing bodies.

“We need buy-in” from elected officials, administrators, neighbors and the press, McCullough said.

It’s unclear exactly how the commission would be formed, who would choose its members and what its makeup would be. But Pope says it would not be a continuation of the existing task force. Some of the same members could serve on the commission, but Pope said he has completed his work and does not plan to serve on the body.

According to the report, the group would:

  • Recommend village-wide budget increases as informed by inflation.
  • Recommend cost saving actions to streamline government.
  • Evaluate the collective impact of referenda.
  • Publish budget decisions of taxing bodies, including their percentage increase.
  • Publish comparisons of the cost of running local government to similar communities.
  • Develop a curriculum to inform elected officials and administrators as to the collective impact of spending decisions.
  • Host public forums on various budget and tax-related projects.

Greffin said the oversight commission is the best way to see that the work of the task force lives on.

She said Oak Park needs to be proactive before the tax burden reaches a point of no return. “We need to build this muscle in Oak Park,” she said.

tim@oakpark.com

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