Bridgett Baron, 49, has been a familiar face in government for years, regularly showing up to Oak Park Village Board of Trustees meetings, among others, and regularly weighing in on various social media forums.
She’s running for a seat on the board of trustees in the April 2 election on a platform of reduced spending and responsible development downtown. She also says she would be a strong voice for public safety in the village.
Baron works in the motion picture and television industry as a payroll accountant.
In an election where intergovernmental cooperation between the village’s various taxing bodies, such as the school districts, township and village, are a hot topic of conversation, Baron might have an edge over her 10 opponents when it comes to finding common ground on spending – she is married to Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 board member Matt Baron.
She noted in a recent interview that the village oversees a budget around $150 million – the biggest of all the taxing bodies, she said. Baron said she would work to slow the growth of the tax levy to 3 percent or less.
Baron said her idea is to direct village staff to present the board with a budget every year the keeps the levy at that 3 percent increase and no more.
“It’s their job – they’re full-time employees,” she told Wednesday Journal. “Unless they get direction, they’re not going to do that. It’s not in government DNA to restrain spending.”
Baron also would direct roughly $3.5 million in property tax revenues from downtown high-rises to ease the tax burden on property owners throughout the village.
“[We need to say] we’re not going to spend this new revenue; we’re going to do what it was designed to do and that is ease the tax burden,” Baron said.
Baron also would focus on cutting spending on programs like the Divvy bike-sharing program, which trustees cut last year after it was revealed that few people were using the costly service.
“Divvy is a perfect example, because that decision was poorly made,” she said. “It was made in the absence of data.”
Baron said she would make decisions that “benefit as many people as possible.”
“It can’t be just a small, vocal group of advocates wanting something,” she said.
A lot of residents, particularly those in jeopardy of being priced out of the village, have historically been unwilling to voice their opposition to spending over fear of being labeled anti-bicycle or anti-environment, she said.
“Now people are willing to put their head above the crowd and say it,” she said.
Baron said she is concerned about high-rise developments downtown and would not support a recently proposed 28-story tower near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple.
Oak Park needs to have a new community conversation about such developments in the village and what residents want the village to look like, she said.
“We did a master plan five years ago. Can we look at what we say we want and see if that’s still viable?” she said.
Baron said the village also needs to have an honest conversation about affordable housing and which residents such a housing ordinance would serve.
“I think the real issue is we have people living in extreme poverty, and how do we help those people,” she said, adding that putting a few affordable units in luxury housing developments would do little to solve the problem.
She noted that Oak Park’s housing stock is now considered 22 percent affordable, according to the definition set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s up from 18 percent a few years ago.
“Apparently, 22 percent is not acceptable,” she said. “What is the acceptable percent? I have no idea what the goal is, because 22 percent seems pretty good to me.”
Baron said she would be a strong proponent for increased public safety in the village, but added that “police can’t do everything on their own.”
She would encourage residents to attend resident beat-officer meetings in their neighborhoods.
Baron noted that perception is not reality and that crime is historically down overall in the village. She said she would work to craft public safety policy “based on facts, rather than how someone feels.”