We know you’re late getting the turkey in the oven. So here are six bite-sized editorials:
No new police station: Monday night the Oak Park Village Board OK’d $53,000 for a consultant to do a space study of the Oak Park Police Department HQ. Here’s our short version of what the final report should say: There is plenty of space. Needs some upgrades. This place has no damned windows. It is depressing. Oh, 45 years ago the village government put the cops in the basement of village hall. On purpose. Bad decision. Too bad. Then the elected leaders should say: How about we move a few police functions above ground within village hall? The first mayor or trustee who suggests building a new police station for $12 million has to pay for it personally.
Messages of hope: An ad hoc group of students at OPRF, supported by staff member Shoneice Reynolds, spent last week placing Post-It Notes with affirming messages on lockers across the building. It has been a discouraging couple of weeks at OPRF, and across our villages, with multiple incidents of hate speech, both racist and anti-Semitic. The simple project with simple truths, such as “Love always wins,” and “You’re awesome,” won the week. Thank you to these students. We needed this.
Go get ’em Fritz: Oak Parker Fritz Kaegi is the new Cook County Assessor. Takes office in early December. What a job he has ahead of him in upturning a property tax assessment system virtually everyone agrees is actively unfair to lower-income county taxpayers while also having been actively corrupted by those with resources to work this fixed system.
Kaegi is not a politician but he has won a political job. Its current occupant, Joe Berrios, was simultaneously assessor and chief of Cook County Democrats. Extricating this office from those politics won’t be simple. Remaking personnel in a politically charged assessor’s office while undertaking a complex overhaul of all the assessment software and algorithms will not be welcomed with open arms.
Finally, because the size of the property tax pie is fixed, progress in creating fair assessments for the powerless who have been perpetually overtaxed comes only in increasing taxes on powerful property owners, many of them commercial owners, who have gamed the system and been underpaying. There is no win-win here. There is fairness and there is pain.
Thanks to Fritz Kaegi for taking on this thankless, vital job.
From Service to Civic: River Forest has changed so much over 20 years, so much for the better. Here’s the latest indicator: The 80-year-old River Forest Service Club, an organization that ran the town and maintained its stodgy ways for decades, is officially rebranding. With its role as behind-the-curtain decider long diminished, its membership aging, and a new generation that didn’t even know what it was, its current leaders are turning the page, remaking its mission and giving it the notably less “don’t bother unless you’re invited” name of the River Forest Civic Association.
That’s a lot of stories: No secret the Journal has been largely supportive of amping up the density of residential construction along the Metra/Green Line through the Downtown Oak Park area. We see it as positive that private developers see Oak Park as a good investment. We believe high-rises are a good way to grow our population of shoppers and taxpayers. And if taxing bodies aren’t endlessly greedy, we believe the boost to the property tax base can be a way to mitigate further property tax hikes.
That said, even we gasped when the latest proposal for a new high-rise on Lake Street across from Scoville Park came in at 28 stories. That’s seven more floors than Oak Park’s current tallest building. And the proposed footprint to build on, currently a bank drive through and small parking lot, is not big.
We’ll need some convincing on this one.
Coalescing on equity: As OPRF works to craft its own equity plan, a trio of admired local activist organizations has already come together to offer a supporting plan. The Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education, APPLE and the Suburban Unity Alliance are in sync on these vital and complex challenges. This bodes well.