Without any discord and on schedule, the Oak Park Village Board of Trustees adopted the 2022 fiscal year budget, Monday night. All but one village board member voted in favor.

“What, we’re not going to fight about this at all?” Trustee Ravi Parakkat joked prior to the vote. 

The budget serves as a financial outline for spending priorities over the 12 months, beginning Jan. 1. The 35 village funds includes approximately $160.3 million in net expenditures. The expected fiscal year ’22 expenditures out of the village’s main operating fund, the general fund, total $69.8 million. The board has committed to capping its tax levy increase to 3%, equating to roughly $1.1 million.

Trustees expressed their appreciation to staff, especially the village’s chief financial officer and treasurer, Steve Drazner, for putting together the hefty, 324-page fiscal document. The final adoption was the culmination of a months-long process that began with a preliminary budget discussion held in the height of summer on July 27. While Drazner was available for questions at Monday’s meeting, the board was already well-versed in the contents of the budget due to the multitude of conversations leading up to that night.

“I’ve said everything I have to say about this budget in these previous meetings,” said a smiling Trustee Susan Buchanan. 

That was not the case for other village board members, particularly mid-term Trustee Arti Walker-Peddakotla, who has voted against adopting the village’s fiscal budgets every year since taking office. This year proved no different.

She treated the board to a lengthy speech detailing her reasoning. While she praised the work put into the document, she reiterated her belief that “budgets are moral documents,” reflecting the village’s “moral priorities.” This budget, she thought, was moving closer in that direction, but was still “lacking.” She referenced the creation of a dedicated trust for the village’s affordable housing fund as one of the budget’s most worthwhile new additions. 

“I do think that the work that Trustee [Lucia] Robinson and I have done to get an affordable housing fund — and advocates have pushed for years before we even got into office — I’m very happy to see that happen,” she said. 

Her quarrels with the budget took up the majority of her monologue. Walker-Peddakotla stated she “didn’t agree” with the village board’s decision to use $14 million of the $38.9 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to reimburse the village for lost revenue due to COVID-19. She called the reimbursement a “misstep” as “people are hurting.” The anguish caused by the pandemic she linked to the increase in crime.

“When you see that crime is going up in our community, it’s not a surprise just given how much this pandemic has taken from people in terms of their jobs,” she said.

Her biggest grievance with this particular budget was the money allotted for policing, which includes $27.1 million from the general fund. Noting that “people calling for change … never get their way,” Walker-Peddakotla invoked Black writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin. 

“How long must Black Americans wait for progress from their governments when it comes to racial profiling by police?” she asked. 

The sitting village board has made a larger commitment to police reform than the previous board. The ’22 budget includes $350,000 appropriated to the village manager’s office for a potential non-police emergency response initiative. 

“I wanted more,” Walker-Peddakotla said. “I will always want more for those initiatives.”

Trustee Jim Taglia felt differently. He urged his fellow board members to not “let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” stating he is in favor of non-police emergency response and referenced the Community Emergency Services and Support Act, state legislation signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in August requiring 911 call centers to coordinate with mental health agencies.

However, he was “not particularly supportive” of the inclusion of $350,000. He justified his view by pointing out that of the budgetary item provides no detail of what a potential non-police emergency response would involve. 

“I am supportive of such a program and I have stated so unequivocally,” he said. “But to levy tax dollars before we have a very clear idea of what the expenditure entails is not best practice.”

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