Change is hard but it should never impede progress. Recently, the Oak Park Village Board began its biennial tradition of setting board goals. This was done just after the 2021 election and is currently underway. Board goals set initiatives for the village manager to balance along with the standard duties of running the village. 

Since the last goal-setting session, a decision made by all but one board member to remove a stand-alone tax levy increase has received criticism. Historically, the tax levy increase has appeared in the board goals without analysis, explanation, or input from our CFO or village manager. The levy increase was simply set by the board and up to the village manager to fit the budget into that number. In reality, the board adhered to its own goal only once in the last two years. In 2021, a 3% levy goal was maintained, but in 2022 the board decreased the levy from 3% to 0%.

To say that removal of the stand-alone tax levy increase removes a board goal is a knee-jerk reaction that misses the mark and only tells half the story. The missing piece is that I, along with all but one of my colleagues, supported the creation of a formalized policy framework to clarify how the levy is determined.

The policy will be developed by the board’s finance committee in the upcoming budget cycle. Within this new policy, I fully expect the board to continue to identify a specific levy increase and work with the village manager to craft a budget that aligns with it. However, I also support greater board accountability and transparency in explaining how it determines the increase each year. The levy increase is the most influential budget parameter, and taxpayers deserve clarity as to how that decision is made.

A defined policy will require the board to identify those factors it considers determinative, such as cost-of-living standards, fluctuating revenue sources, and existing financial commitments. Such factors may become more or less impactful over time as Oak Park responds to changes in its own finances as well as changes in the national or global economy.

In addition, a formalized policy around the levy can impact more than the current budget cycle. An established policy forces future boards to adhere to the same process or establish a new one. And it can create an opportunity for board candidates to discuss the levy at a deeper level in the election cycle. But most importantly, it provides transparency to the community as to how the board determines the amount of taxpayer dollars it will spend each year. This is a level of transparency that does not currently exist, and it’s time to change that.

Admittedly, this new process deviates from the old way of doing things. It is a step away from the status quo. In my view, resisting change to the board’s current tax levy paradigm unnecessarily impedes progress.

Lucia Robinson is an Oak Park village trustee.

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