The Oak Park Board of Trustees approved a 2019 budget at its Dec. 11 meeting that increases the tax levy by 3 percent.
That puts the levy increase at $959,817 for a total levy of $32 million.
The board was able to keep the tax levy increase lower this year by drawing down $1.4 million in available cash reserves from the general fund.
That reduces the fund balance from $12.7 million to $11.3 million.
Oak Park resident David Gentry testified before the board, saying that without the use of cash reserves, the levy increase would have been 7.4 percent.
He quoted the budget, which states: “It is unlikely that the village can continue to limit property tax increases to 3 percent annually going forward unless there are increases to other revenues (such as sales tax or similar), there is a dramatic reduction in non-core service support (e.g. property tax support for grant funding agreements or services provided to other taxing bodies) or there is a dramatic reduction in core municipal services.”
The budget was approved on a 5 to 2 vote, with trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney casting the dissenting votes.
Moroney said he was disappointed with the budget because of an unwillingness to get the levy increase down without tapping into budget reserves.
“We owe it to ourselves … to reduce the deficit to a million [dollars],” he said, calling the tax burden “a death by a thousand cuts.”
“I’m not in favor of this budget because I don’t think we tried to get it to where it needs to be,” Moroney said.
The 3 percent goal was established by the Taxing Bodies Efficiency Task Force, which was established by the Oak Park Board of Trustees earlier this year to find ways to limit the tax burden on homeowners.
Trustee Jim Taglia said he was comfortable spending reserve funds, calling it a “good thing,” because the board did not use money from the reserves in the previous fiscal year.
He noted that trustees have scheduled a study session for next year to explore the idea of priority-based budgeting, a strategy for determining the most vital needs in the village and prioritizing spending accordingly.
“I think priority-based budgeting would help us address those concerns,” he said.
Andrews said he believes “taxes are out of control” in Oak Park and there needs to be a better effort to rein in spending.
“We got a decent start this budget season, but we didn’t come anywhere near where needed to go,” he said.
He warned that the fund reserves “are there for a reason” adding that he believes the economy could be headed for a recession.
“That’s what you save for,” Andrews said.
Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb noted that about half of the $32 million levy covers fixed costs like police and fire pensions and debt service. The 3 percent levy increase equals about $900,000, he said. That’s about $25 more each from taxpayers with homes valued at about $300,000 to $400,000, he said.
“I think we’re doing the best we can,” he said.
Trustee Simone Boutet said that the budget process has been torturous because of the struggle of looking at and debating individual items to cut from the budget. Boutet added that a lot of the cost of the municipal budget comes from worker salaries, and the village board should consider looking more closely for cuts there next year because of “multiple layers of management” working at village hall.