By a considerable margin — 60-40 — Oak Park voters last week approved the non-binding and vaguely worded referendum asking if they are open to studying the possibility of some sort of merger among the village government, the library, park district and/or the township.

Maybe the outcome is explained by the high voter turnout in this midterm election, maybe by a “why not” reaction to the understated wording of the ballot question. One thing that does not explain the final vote is any sort of concerted effort by any supporters to build interest in the outcome. This was an under-the-radar vote.

In any case, it passed decisively and that raises the question what happens next?

Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb said he’d go back to his board of trustees and look for direction. But then he said it seemed reasonable to him that a third-party of some sort be hired or appointed to gather information on the pros and cons of any consolidation. Other taxing bodies would need to join that process, he said, and it would likely take a considerable time to figure out if actual consolidation makes sense.

We will see if this vote puts the other taxing bodies in a more open-minded mood to consider all possibilities up to and including active mergers.

Our point of view is the trajectory of property taxes, and don’t forget the lead role played here by the two school districts, is just unsustainable. Add in pension projections which are only going to intensify, and the model of local governing has got to change.

We’re less interested in seeing governing units go out of existence than we are in seeing active, innovative, and hard choices being made among these taxing bodies to share services. Let’s go back to the days, not long ago, when a single health insurance policy covered most local government staff. Find ways to share financial management and human resources personnel. If there are ways to share buildings and put more property on the tax rolls that would be great. And, we’ll always lobby for a single fire district that includes Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park.

The message of this referendum is to save taxpayer dollars while preserving essential services. The status quo does not do that.

Let’s implement the many recommendations of the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force and not get stuck in a fight focused just on consolidation.

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