To those running for the Oak Park Village Board or President/Mayor in the spring, a suggestion: Promote radical collaboration with Oak Park Township. It’s a win-win-win.
The majority of the American public, and certainly Oak Parkers, want a shift in the balance between local government expenditures on law enforcement and spending for social services — toward the latter. There is a profound desire, fiercely manifest in Oak Park, to spend less on policing and more on the supportive social services that divert or address the needs of those who are or would be more likely to become involved with the justice system.
At the same time, taxpayers are eager, to say the least, for government to be more cost-efficient. That means a zero-sum village policy approach, i.e. spending on social service positions and programs that the village does not currently have, while reducing the policing budget, wouldn’t get there.
But there is a solution: radical collaboration with the other units of local government, in this case especially with the Township. Many if not most of the services that Oak Parkers want to see more of, to help pre-empt violence and address the community’s needs, like at-risk youth or mental health services, are under the purview of the township, not the village.
Unfortunately, the decision was made during the last village budget cycle to do exactly the opposite. After more than a decade of the village being an affirmative partner with the township and the other Oak Park (and River Forest) taxing bodies, to support our impactful Youth Interventionist Program, the village voted to step away from the partnership. The words “tone deaf” came to mind with that decision, among others.
The new board could not only fix that mistake, it can move affirmatively toward changing the balance, which our constituents strongly desire. Rather than wasting time and money trying to grow new arms of the government beast, to create village versions of services the township already provides, the village can become a pro-active funding partner in delivering township services that reduce the need (and costs) of policing.
The truth is, township managers and staff are already the experts in the social service areas we provide and support, and we do it at lower overhead than the village could. The proof in that pudding is the township’s fiscal performance. In addition to winning statewide awards for the quality of township senior and youth services and those of the Community Mental Health Board and our innovative Prevention Services Department, we have held the line on exploding tax increases, and even recently voted not to collect some TIF funds that could have been collected, while winning the GFOA budgeting quality award every year for the past 16. We know how to do this efficiently — and we would like to be a more active partner with the village to address this urgent need for change.
We can do this together. Let’s convene a summit of our boards to talk it through. We can work out a way to make the shift: less emphasis on policing, more on social services, at less cost to taxpayers. It’s what our constituents want and what they deserve.
I hope the new village leadership in the spring makes it a priority. You can usher in a new era of radical collaboration to meet this critical challenge.
Eric Davis is an Oak Park Township trustee.