We accomplished a lot at the Oak Park village board table this past year in the three key focus areas of my campaign: affordability & budget discipline, community safety, and sustainable & equitable economic recovery/development. Our new village manager, Kevin Jackson, has done a commendable job of leading our administration this year and trying to balance all the goals the board has set for him and his team. However, there is much more to be done.

Affordability & budget discipline

While I was able to advocate successfully for a 0% tax levy increase for 2023, we did not have the majority support on the board required to examine and prune our expenses, which have grown by a significant $3.7 million year-over-year. While this is a missed opportunity, I’m cautiously optimistic that it will not adversely impact our community in the long run because of the increased sales tax revenue and parking deficit reduction measures we’ve taken. We have also seen our credit rating improve, which will help us borrow at a lower cost in the future as the need arises. We have prioritized investments in infrastructure (alleys, roads, water, etc.) to further catch up on pandemic-induced delays. In addition, we’ve effectively allocated most of the $39 million in American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds toward community needs. However, it behooves us to pay close attention to some trends in our revenue and expenses in a recessionary environment. Unfavorable trends could land us in serious trouble.

Community safety

The comprehensive Berry Dunn community safety study recommendations have now replaced calls to defund the police. This gives our police department fact-based investment and improvement opportunities to build a modern and bias-free department. I wish our new police chief, Shatonya Johnson, success in taking the department from good to great by implementing the study recommendations. It is worth remembering that crime — especially crime involving guns — is on the rise. While we invest to modernize the department, we also need to make sure it is effective in combating surges in crime. I am committed to providing our police department with tools and resources to be effective, while holding them accountable for our community’s safety. We have taken some measures this year like traffic-calming on certain streets, the overnight gas station ban, strengthening our nuisance ordinance, and deploying Flock (ALPR) cameras, to name a few, but more needs to happen. I expect the advice and action to come from our police department.

Sustainable & equitable economic recovery/development

Inflation, and the possibility of a recession caused by our efforts to tame that inflation, create serious headwinds today and are expected to continue into 2023. Still, we have seen brisk economic recovery this year with a record-setting number of business permits being issued by the village and a significant increase in sales tax revenue. As we continue to recover, we must ensure that our recovery is equitable and sustainable. To these ends, the board has set up and funded a Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DEI) office under the leadership of Danielle Walker. On the sustainability side, we now have the Oak Park Climate Action Plan that clearly articulates our net-zero emissions path: where we are today, where we need to get to, and how and by when. I worked on the recommendations that led to these initiatives, both as an Energy & Environment commissioner and as an OP Climate Action Network member, and it’s been great to see this progress made.

However, our climate action plan requires significant investment, and much thought still needs to go into how we pay for it while keeping our community affordable. For this reason, it’s important to focus on sustainable development ideas that attract investments to our community. This is why I proposed the sustainability incubator, which is now being evaluated by SB Friedan.

My complementary efforts with Takeout 25 NFP have contributed to our economic recovery, and Takeout 25 is now embarking on an exciting journey to build and promote our community as Illinois’ first Green Dining District with the support of our small business community. Together these efforts place us on the right path for a sustainable and equitable future.

Looking forward

Oak Park has made good progress this year, but I’m concerned that a few key decisions at the board table could render us unsafe, unaffordable, inequitable, and unsustainable. So as you approach the April 2023 municipal elections, and the campaigns for the three village board trustee seats on the ballot, I encourage you to examine the candidates closely for experience and proven track record on fiscal responsibility, commitment to community safety, and support for sustainable and equitable development.

I wish every one of you a 2023 that brings you closer to your dreams and aspirations. Happy New Year!

Ravi Parakkat is an Oak Park village trustee.

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