Oak Park’s village board cut millions of dollars from the 2019 budget at its Dec. 3 board meeting, most notably cutting $150,000 from the budget of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and $33,618 from a proposed increase in the budget of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.
The meeting became heated at times, with members of various partner agencies advocating for funding and trustees passionately debating funding the various services.
Two budget items were also added to the discussion for recommended cuts that were not on the agenda but added prior to the meeting by trustees Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney. Those items included cutting $1.7 million for an elevator for people with disabilities at Village Hall and another $2 million for a streetscape project for Marion Street north of Lake.
The board of trustees directed Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and staff in November to find additional $1 million in cuts to the 2019 budget. Staff returned with a suggested $519,818 in cuts.
Much of the debate centered around cuts to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which works to ensure diversity in the village by encouraging new residents to live in areas of town that are underrepresented by various races. The organization, for decades, has encouraged white renters to live east of Ridgeland near the majority black Chicago neighborhood of Austin and for black renters to live west of Ridgeland, where the demographic leans white.
Trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney argued that the housing center has failed to meet its benchmarks for encouraging integration. The village historically has funded the organization with as much as $425,000 annually. The goal of the organization is to secure 600 affirmative moves annually of people of different races to underrepresented parts of town in an effort to fight segregation in the village.
This year the housing center met about half of that goal. The proposed cut, which was approved by the trustees, was for $33,618, the amount the group’s budget would have increased this year.
Leaders of the non-profit argued that they are working on a strategic plan to get the number of affirmative moves back up to 600 a year.
Trustee Simone Boutet argued that cutting the budget would not help the housing center in its mission to improve its numbers. Moroney suggested that the organization’s funding level should be based on its success ratio – if they get only 300 affirmative moves, they should only get half of their allotted funding for the year, he argued.
The Oak Park Police Department also backed down on its plan to hire three new police officers next year, reducing the number of new hires to only two. That single hiring reduction will save the village about $120,000, according to LaDon Reynolds, acting police chief.
The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental organization tasked with bringing new business to the village had its budget of $720,000 cut by $120,000 at the meeting. Staff suggested a cut of $71,000, which is the amount OPEDC typically returns to the village every year unused.
Trustee Andrews suggested more than doubling the cut to $150,000, noting that it’s about the amount of money OPEDC spent this year on a marketing campaign for the village. “We need to do more with less,” Andrews said.
The meeting became heated when a budget item was brought forth by trustees Boutet and Moroney to cut a $1.7 million expenditure to install a new elevator in Village Hall for those with disabilities. The item was not one of village staff’s suggested cuts and not noted in the agenda.
The meeting became caustic when Trustee Bob Tucker attempted to argue for the elevator. Tucker began telling a story about how his father has never been able to attend one of the board meetings because of mobility issues. Tucker was repeatedly cut off by Boutet.
Tucker, visibly shaken, ultimately declined to continue in the debate.
“We’re using a lot of emotion to talk about something that factually is not there,” Boutet argued after Tucker discontinued his argument. Boutet said residents can still enter the chambers by taking an elevator on the west side of the building and a lift near the council chambers.
Tucker argued that there was no transparency to the public in bringing the issue up without public notice.
Boutet said after the meeting that no one wants the elevator other than Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and village staff. Asked if she contacted anyone at the Oak Park Disability Access Commission on the topic, Boutet acknowledged that she had not.
She said Tucker’s argument concerning his father was “manipulative,” reiterating that no one has ever asked for the elevator. She said she has never attended a meeting of the Disability Access Commission.
The village also reduced funding to the Oak Park Area Arts Council by $30,000 and cut another $50,000 for building improvements at one of the village’s fire stations. That money would have been used to establish gender specific locker rooms for female firefighters.
* This story was updated to clarify that Bob Tucker’s father does not have a disability but mobility issues.