Taxation task force makes its case

Group to pitch various taxing bodies on belt-tightening recommendations

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

The Taxing Bodies Efficiencies Task Force, established earlier this by the Village of Oak Park, released its report to the village board in early October and now aims to pitch its findings and recommendations to the village's five other taxing bodies.

Members of the group met with Wednesday Journal staff a few weeks after releasing the report, which makes a number of recommendations, including holding the line on tax increase referenda through 2030 and establishing a citizen-led budget oversight committee.

The task force, earlier this year, convinced the Oak Park village board to approve a non-binding ballot question in the November election that asks if the village should further pursue considering merging some or all of the various taxing bodies, including the Village of Oak Park, the Park District of Oak Park, the Oak Park Public Library and Oak Park Township.

Chairman David Pope reiterated last week that the property tax rate, which has increased three times as fast as the rate of inflation in recent years, is "putting at risk some of the core elements of what Oak Park has been about for 50 years."

The village's diversity and affordability for various income levels is at risk, said Pope, a former village president.

The task force's report notes that between 2015 and 2017 "the total amount or property taxes levied by all Oak Park taxing bodies has grown by 20 percent."

Eighty-seven percent of that growth comes from school districts 97 and 200 and the village government, according to the report.

And over the last 17 years, the average percentage of median household income that goes toward property taxes has jumped from 5 to 8.4 percent.

Task force member Judy Greffin says the village needs a multi-faceted solution. "We need to live within our means, which is the Consumer Price Index," she said, referencing the index that measures the average change of prices paid by consumers for various goods and services.

Gary McCullough, who also served on the task force, emphasized that nowhere in the report is it suggested that the village or any other taxing body reduce services in an effort to control spending.

The suggestion that the task force wants to cut services is an oft-stated position on internet chat boards, but McCullough said the task force's mandate was to find savings. It's believed by some that "there was a pre-ordained outcome" for the report, but the group, which met throughout most of the year "didn't get involved to carry anyone's water," he said.

Among the group's recommendations is the creation of a citizen-led financial oversight commission, but such a commission would have little impact without the support of Oak Park's six taxing bodies.

"We need buy-in" from elected officials, administrators, neighbors and the press, McCullough said.

It's unclear exactly how the commission would be formed, who would choose its members and what its makeup would be. But Pope says it would not be a continuation of the existing task force. Some of the same members could serve on the commission, but Pope said he has completed his work and does not plan to serve on the body.

According to the report, the group would:

  • Recommend village-wide budget increases as informed by inflation.
  • Recommend cost saving actions to streamline government.
  • Evaluate the collective impact of referenda.
  • Publish budget decisions of taxing bodies, including their percentage increase.
  • Publish comparisons of the cost of running local government to similar communities.
  • Develop a curriculum to inform elected officials and administrators as to the collective impact of spending decisions.
  • Host public forums on various budget and tax-related projects.

Greffin said the oversight commission is the best way to see that the work of the task force lives on.

She said Oak Park needs to be proactive before the tax burden reaches a point of no return. "We need to build this muscle in Oak Park," she said.

Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 11:24 PM

Josh: I think Kevin is referring to Wm Baumol's "cost disease."

Robert Zeh  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 9:12 PM

Chris, a quick look at the Illinois State report cards for D90 and D97 shows that there is no reason for River Forest to merge D90. Everything from the achievement gap to participation rates is better in D90. Why give that up?

Josh Vanderberg  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 7:39 PM

Kevin, in my analysis I used AWI, the SSA's wage index. It's a bit higher than CPI. It doesn't really change the analysis, even adjusted for wage growth, Oak Park's taxes have grown by 50% in the last 20 years. Adjusted for CPI that figure is about 60%, not that much different. The point is that taxes are growing far faster than our ability to pay. This is a factual observation.

Kevin Peppard from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2018 7:31 PM

Judy Greffin remarked, "We need to live within our means, which is the Consumer Price Index," That is NOT what our means is. If our ability to pay moved with the cost of living only, we be living back in Abe Lincoln's day. There is no such thing as monolithic "inflation" The Employment Cost Index would be a a better measure. The economic ignorance of the people on this committee is astounding, albeit many purport to be financial experts.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: October 16th, 2018 12:33 AM

Boat owners and Oak Park home owners share the same philosophy. The second best day in a boat owners and Oak Park home owners life is buying their first boat or first Oak Park home. The first best day in a boat owners or Oak Park home owners life is selling their first boat or first Oak Park home.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 10:46 PM

Chris, tell me what possible reason D90 would agree to or even want to be part of the large spendthrift problem bound D97/D200 combine. There isn't a snowball's chance in hell that RF residents would agree to this. What exactly would be in it for them other than one giant headache?

Chris Hanson  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 8:49 PM

While the article mentions education costs being the lion's share of property taxes and how fast they've grown, those taxing bodies have again, like many property tax conversations in this state, evaded this task force. Why is consolidating D97, D90, and D200 into one single unit school district not a discussion point? You'd keep the same amount of schools and teachers, but shed some administrative buildings along with some administrative, including expensive superintendent, salaries. In IL, where 25% of school districts only serve one school, we NEED to have ISBE force consolidation of school districts. Cook and the collar counties should only have Unit School Districts serving at minimum 5,000 students while the rest of the state can have countywide school districts where populations, generally speaking, are much lower. THIS is one area we really need to focus efforts on at the state level.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 7:47 PM

David Pope provided the trustees with some insight by offering a few examples of how the Oak Park property tax burden compares to some selected Illinois communities. I would like to see more details that included comparisons to the Village's fund balance, debt service, operating budget, number of TIF districts, public safety staffing and infrastructure expenditures. The task force should have easy access to those numbers and provide residents and taxpayers with a more comprehensive analysis. Are we getting a good bang for our buck or being taken to the cleaners?

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 6:21 PM

Let's eliminate the Village and let the fiscally responsible and creative Township and library run it all! This is a power grab by the village. No way should they be running anything, much less everything.

Renee Geweniger Zoltowski  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 5:05 PM

Well I hope this will lower property taxes, we are looking towards retirement, and I would hate to have to move after living here my whole adult life. They are outrageous. My sister owns 30 acres of land and a 3000 sq ft house and her taxes are less than mine. (her schools are rated high also).

Al Rossell  

Posted: October 15th, 2018 5:04 PM

Some of these tax issues would be resolved if school boards did not go for referendums the year we get re assessed giving them more money than they planned on. I feel it is very sneaky on their part and done on purpose knowing that assessed values typically increase during reassessment years.

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