On Tuesday, voters in Oak Park will turn out at the polls to choose the next governor, a batch of judges and, if they get to the end of the ballot, to offer up a non-binding opinion on whether Oak Park should study the option of consolidating local taxing bodies in some non-specified way.
Well not fully unspecified. The proposal, put forward by the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force, implies that it would be problematic to consolidate either or both of the public school districts into an existing taxing body. That leaves the village government, the park district, the library and the township as possible partners.
This referendum question has spurred some angst, particularly among defenders of Oak Park Township, which is perceived as the target of a hostile takeover by village government. Certainly, the village has been inartful in raising the consolidation option. There have been tensions between the village and the park district related to new construction downtown, and its inability to make a pact with District 97 to share a new or rehabilitated headquarters on Madison Street. And across Illinois, township governments have been the poster child for the fact that our broke and abused state has more units of local government than any other.
So how to vote on this question? What does it hurt to vote “Yes” and allow “consideration” of some sort of consolidation? Or, what does it hurt to vote “No” since the chance of any actual consolidation is remote.
We don’t have an actual recommendation. We do, though, have strong feelings that the report of this ad hoc task force, issued two months after the ballot question was approved, is a strong and worthy approach to finally bringing runaway property taxes to a slow trot. Let’s focus on innovation and actual collaboration among these governments to take real costs out of service delivery. And let’s focus on the creation of the ongoing citizen-led financial oversight commission that would provide actual accountability for each and every taxing body.