Angry about the condition of alleys in Oak Park? Displeased with the state of the police department’s facility? Wish there were more public benches around town? Fewer potholes? More trees? Chances are the village of Oak Park is already working to address such issues through its five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

Projects related to maintaining or improving municipal infrastructure fall under the capital improvement umbrella. The village of Oak Park’s Finance Committee met Sept. 13 to review the five-year CIP plan recommended by staff, tackling a substantial portion of the 228-page document. 

Village President Vicki Scaman sits on the Finance Committee as do Trustees Jim Taglia, Ravi Parakkat and Chibuike Enyia. Trustee Susan Buchanan and Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla also attended and gave input. Initial responses from trustees were relatively positive, with much praise being heaped on village staff for the amount of work put into the plan.

“As a trustee, it’s always extremely useful to have the ability to spend time and understand the state of our assets in the village,” said Taglia, adding that the village must continually invest in its infrastructure to meet the needs of the community.

Oak Park’s CIP planning process coincides with the development of its budget for the next fiscal year. The fiscal year budget includes the first year of the CIP and the previous village board adopted both during the month of December. However, village staff recommended the current village board continue to adopt a fiscal budget in December but adopt the first year of the CIP in early October.

“The reason being is that engineering can then get started,” said Interim Village Manager Lisa Shelley. 

By adopting the first year of the CIP early, the engineering department can start bidding projects out before contractors’ schedules fill up or prices increase, according to Shelley and Village Engineer Bill McKenna. 

Many of the listed projects included in the CIP plan have been in process for years, including equipment replacement and facility studies. Some were delayed or postponed due to COVID-19. All of the projects in the CIP plan are rated by priority using a scale of “A” through “F,” with “A” representing essential and immediate needs. “F” represents future projects with no expenditures intended in 2022. Some grant-funded projects have higher rankings than others as the village could risk losing that support by postponing a project.

Buchanan voiced concern that some sustainability projects were not listed as “A,” feeling the given rankings did not align with board goals.

Village staff broke up the recommended CIP plan by the fund responsible by type of improvement as well as by the fund responsible for managing and paying for each project. Each project falls under one of four categories: building improvements, fleet replacements, equipment replacements and main CIP, which includes all other projects. Each category has a separate fund or budget attached to it to track costs, but some projects could qualify as tax increment financing (TIF) eligible expense or relate to either the village’s water and sewer or parking funds. In those cases, the expenditure is budgeted within that specific fund rather than one of the CIP funds. 

The finance committee went through the projects categorized under the main CIP fund during the Sept. 13. The fund’s main expenses are street repairs and replacements, alleys and sidewalks. One of the notable “A” priority projects” for the fiscal year 2022 is the traffic calming and landscaping project at Forest Avenue and Ontario Street.

The recommended plan states that the fund’s revenue is generated through a “dedicated [one percent] sales tax, a six cent per gallon gasoline tax as well as through the state distribution of [International Monetary Fund] Telecommunications Taxes.” The main CIP fund also subsidizes the other capital funds through interfund transfers.

The projects under the building improvement fund, as well as the fleet replacement and equipment replacement funds, were also discussed Sept. 13. A notable building improvement project ranked “A” is the modification of the existing bunk room in the main fire station to provide for the needs of future female firefighters. The need for new fire department vehicles, as the current vehicles that have reached the end of their useful lives, also got an “A” rating under the fleet replacement fund. 

By January 2024, the state of Illinois is requiring police departments to have programs up and running for body cameras, which the Oak Park Police Department does not currently utilize. The equipment replacement fund lists the cost of devices, storage and redaction software as a “B” project – “essential but may be delayed.”

The finance committee will review the portion of the CIP plan related to the water and sewer funds at its next meeting on Sept. 27. The proposed timeline calls for an adoption of the CIP during the Oct. 4 board meeting.

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