It wasn’t much of a question for the majority of the Park District of Oak Park Board of Commissioners.

For the past two months, residents — most of whom are members of Oak Park Property Tax Watch Facebook group — asked all taxing bodies not to levy the maximum amount allowed. 

With the Downtown and Madison Street Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts expiring, the park district and other taxing bodies have the right to raise the levy to capture property tax revenue that had previously been sequestered in the TIF funds. 

But at a pair of meetings in December, residents argued that the park board had the opportunity to provide some property tax relief. They argued that the tax increases from all taxing bodies have hurt Oak Park households and drive current and potential residents away. 

But the park district staff and commissioners insisted they needed the money to help absorb the cost of minimum wage increases, which affects them more than most park districts due to the sheer number of part-time and seasonal employees they hire. 

Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the full levy, with David Wick casting the only no vote. 

Like most taxing bodies, the park district is subject to the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL), which caps the tax levy at the level of the consumer price index or 5 percent, whichever is less. But, taxing bodies are allowed capture extra revenue that comes from the TIF’s expiration, as well as to account for the value new construction. 

According to a memo by Kyle Cratty, the park district’s director of finance, “The individual taxpayer will only see their taxes increase by the CPI or 1.9 percent.” 

Jan Arnold, the park district’s executive director, said the tax increase would amount to around $4.63 for a property worth between $300,000 and $400,000.

During the Dec. 19 park board meeting, several residents argued that even that adds to the increasing tax burden. 

Tom MacMillan, who described himself as a “big fan” of the park district, suggested that approving a tax increase now instead of putting it to referendum suggested that the park district didn’t believe voters would support such a referendum and wanted to do a an end run on voters.

“I certainly hope that’s not the way you guys feel, but what’s the rush?” he said. “It’s hurting people out there, others have talked about that.”

Pete Prokopowicz said he wasn’t moved by the statements that it was a hard decision and that commissioners were taxpayers, too. 

“I would especially like my friends who’ve moved away last year to know it’s not an easy vote,” he said, sarcastically “I hereby move that we don’t waste our time and listen to everybody about how difficult their vote is.”

Arnold said that she would recommend taking advantage of the full increase because the increases in state minimum wage would raise employee expenses by about around $160,000 a year. Arnold argued that, given how many local teens and young adults the park district employs, a lot of that money would go back into the Oak Park economy.

“The district will continue to look for cost-savings,” Arnold said. “We continue to decrease dependency on taxes and derive more revenue from programs and services.”

None of the commissioners commented on the vote, with all but Wick voting in favor. When asked about his vote after the meeting, Wick didn’t elaborate.

“I’m just against fully [raising the levy to capture] the TIF, that’s all,” he said. “I’m in favor of 1.9 percent.”

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Igor Studenkov

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...

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