Tensions ran high and tempers flared as the Oak Park Village Board voted affirmatively to accept and implement the recommended 2020 budget, as well as the 2020 capital improvement plan, at the Dec. 2 meeting.
Hackles rose as board members discussed an ordinance amending the 2019 annual budget, a prerequisite to voting on the coming year’s budget, when Trustee Simone Boutet questioned the village’s chief financial officer, Steven Drazner, about workers compensation figures that looked inaccurate to her.
“With regards to the workers comp adjustments in the budget document for 2020, with respect to how it reports to 2019, they just don’t match up,” she said. “You might just want to double check that.”
Drazner said it appeared that the village was just reclassing the amounts from one account to another, not adding new funds.
“I just want to make sure because if someone is watching this board meeting right now and one of us is painting a picture that the information is not accurate because they don’t understand it, it becomes a reflection that you’re not doing your job,” Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb told Drazner.
“This is the exact, correct way of doing it,” Drazner confirmed.
After the board unanimously voted to accept the ordinance, the mayor commented that he didn’t mean to be harsh, but Boutet should have talked with Drazner prior to the meeting.
“I think this would have been helpful if Trustee Boutet had called the CFO, went over these numbers with the CFO at his office or on the phone to make sure she understood this information before she comes to the board table,” Abu-Taleb said and added, “Doing that kind of work makes us more efficient and then we are not giving the perception that our CFO is shifting money around.”
Boutet quickly pointed out that she made no such accusations.
“I think it would be efficient if you spent more time listening and less time always attacking me at the board table,” Boutet countered.
“This is not ‘Accounting 101’ for each of us,” the mayor said. The mayor reiterating that board members needed to make sure they grasped the numbers prior to the meeting, so the board can convey an understanding of the budget to the public.
“You don’t like that I ask questions at the board table. I can’t help that, Anan,” Boutet told the mayor. “I’m going to be doing my job; I’m going to ask questions at the board table. That’s where we do the job.”
Abu-Taleb said that he wasn’t telling Boutet not to do her job, but that the board would be more efficient if she talked to staff beforehand.
The contentiousness continued as board members clashed with each other while discussing the adoption of the 2020 budget, which contains a 3 percent tax levy increase. Some trustees expressed frustration over what would and would not receive funding, while others commended the fiscal responsibility of the budget.
“I think doing this exercise and sticking to 3 percent shows that, if a taxing body wants to be fiscally responsible, sacrifices have to be made,” Trustee Deno Andrews said. “I don’t usually like to comment on other taxing bodies and their levies, but I’m going to because every other taxing body is poised to pass between a 5 and a 10 percent tax levy increase this year.”
Andrews said he was “supremely disappointed” in the other taxing bodies for doing so. Citing the circulating petition calling for lower taxes, Andrews said he was shocked that tax entities would not make sacrifices in the name of fiscal responsibility.
“I’m happy on this board and I’m happy with the budget as it is,” he said.
Walker-Peddakotla disagreed, saying she would have “loved” to see more solar projects come out of this budget cycle.
“Climate change is an absolutely urgent threat and I don’t think we’re treating it with the urgency it requires,” she said.
Boutet agreed, saying she didn’t feel the board has made enough progress with sustainability initiatives.
“I think the budget revolves around compromise,” said Taglia. “There are things in here that I don’t prefer and some things I do.”
Overall, Taglia supported the budget, calling it “strong.”
Walker-Peddakotla said she disagreed with holding the levy to a 3 percent increase.
“While we talk a lot about how property taxes are increasing, we’re not talking about how your water fees are going up and your trash fees are going up,” she said. “Those fees going up actually hurt low-income and middle-income people more sometimes than property taxes.”
She also didn’t believe in turning people’s water off for being unable to pay their water bills and that the board needed to discuss it.
The mayor pointed out that he brought up that idea at a previous meeting.
“I think it’s worth it to give the credit where it belongs before you take credit for it yourself,” he said.
“You are literally going at it with Simone and I and you just need to chill,” Walker-Peddakotla said.
The board also sparred over the decision to cease village funding of the Youth Interventionist program in 2020 and for the state’s community policing program, before eventually voting to accept the 2020 budget and CIP plan, with Walker-Peddakotla casting the sole dissenting votes.