Advisory finance referenda on ballot for Oak Parkers

Fund reserves and spending limits on the table

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By Stacey Sheridan

Staff Reporter

Oak Park voters have more to vote on in the upcoming election beyond who should step into the Oval Office. Two advisory referendum questions regarding the financial practices of local taxing bodies have made it onto the ballot. Oak Parkers will have the option to vote yes or no on both.

Both referenda are non-binding; meaning, if passed, local taxing bodies, such as Oak Park public school districts, have no legal obligation to operate in accordance with the outcome.

One referendum suggests limiting the operating cash balance of Oak Park taxing bodies and having any excess money returned to taxpayers: "Shall the Operating Cash Balances of local Oak Park Governments be limited to one-half year's Operating Expenses, as measured at the start of the fiscal year, with the excess returned as soon as possible to the taxpayers through temporarily lowered taxes?"

Don't dust off those accounting textbooks just yet – fund balances represent the remaining cash after paying all expenses and depositing revenues. Fund balances can be a safeguard when unexpected challenges arise.

For instance, Oak Park Township has a policy to keep an amount equal to four or six months of operations in its fund balance, according to township manager Gavin Morgan. If a major disaster struck, the township could rely on its fund balance to continue functioning for that period of time.

Fund balances can also be used in scenarios less apocalyptic. In the past, Oak Park Township has had to dip into its fund balance to pay bills, after Cook County failed to forward tax collections on time.

However, a fund balance wildly exceeding the cost of expenditures can be viewed as hoarding taxpayer dollars.

The other referendum proposes necessitating Oak Park taxing bodies obtain voter approval on certain capital expenditures: "Shall any capital expenditure of $5 million or more by any local taxing body within Oak Park be subject to a binding referendum for approval or rejection by the voters?"

Despite the inclusion of the word "binding," the referendum is decidedly not binding, due to the method in which it made it onto the ballot. As is the case regarding the fund balance referendum.

Sponsored by citizen Kevin Peppard, the two referenda made it on the ballot after being approved by electors, or registered Oak Park voters, during the Oak Park Township's annual meeting last July. Every referendum brought to the ballot through this process are entirely advisory, not binding, in nature.



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Reader Comments

23 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2020 3:16 PM

Helen - no legal obligation, but it will be crystal clear to our taxing bodies that the voters want to always have a vote on these levels of spending and the tax increases they bring. Right now the Park District will do anything to avoid having a referendum on their latest new center. And D200 is ignoring a referendum vote entirely with their Imagine project to build a pool. Why is it so hard in Oak Park for voters to have a say in their own spending? It is like the people in charge could care less about the actual citizens.

Helen Quinn-Pasin from Oak Park  

Posted: November 2nd, 2020 1:19 PM

Does anyone know why the clause says the word binding, if it's actually non-binding because of the way it was brought to the ballot?

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 9:15 PM

Someone edited your comments here, T.Mac? Where? When? More to the point, how?

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 8:05 PM

Didn't realize your job was to patrol the comments section of the small town paper, sport. The great journalist reduced to editing the comment section. Have at it Will. It is all yours.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 2:00 PM

Damn, T.Mac. You really are clueless. In my story I was a journalist reporting a story. Nothing more. In your case, you let your anger over the way things are lead you to illogically criticize people who are just trying to do their jobs, sans facts. Sorry your RE taxes are so high. But get a grip, sport. If you don't like my retorts, post somewhere else. Or learn to deal with it.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 1:48 PM

Really, what is wrong with you Dwyer? You try to turn a citizen objecting about the poor management of a service into an attack on the service itself? So in your story, you are some sort of heroic defender of the bad, but not that bad, Township. And it is all ok there now, trust them, because they got caught and learned better how not to get caught.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 11:18 AM

Actually, T. Mac, I've always said just the opposite of what you suggest- that is, don't take my word for it. Read up. Research. Check other sources. But then, if you acknowledged that, you wouldn't be able to pop off in your own petulant, uninformed manner. The fact is, the person at PACE I spoke with said this was an aberration, that it didn't happen again, and that the township responded - and responded satisfactorily- immediately upon being notified of the misconduct, first by a township employee, and a day later by the inspector general's office. The Township also allowed the corrupt transportation manager's supervisor to retire months after they fired the transportation supervisor. Oh, and by the way- the township call-in ride services you say you wouldn't miss is taken away would be missed by hundreds seniors and disabled individuals why depend on them. I'm happy you don't need them. Lots of other less fortunate people do.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 19th, 2020 10:02 AM

Clearly if William Dwyer says it, it is accurate. So in the case of the Township, he thinks it was always just one person faking numbers. No need to worry about that person's boss. No need to worry about all those other people who were faking the numbers, they were just following the organization's orders. No need to worry about the whole top of the organization, still there, as they didn't realize what was happening, the second time it happened. Someone is reporting on the smoke while never even thinking about the fire.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 17th, 2020 12:24 PM

I do not think there is much fake news and to make sure it is a good idea to read opposing views. It takes some ability for a reporter to decipher through information posted and determine if there is something worth looking into further. As for local and big government, sure of course you can trust they are all above board. You do not think Trump just takes off golfing or hosting guests at his hotel without charging the tax payers. That is the government you can count on and although newspapers report it, there is nothing that can be done because they some how fall into the legal end of it although when you think of morally right and integrity, that is a different area. Sometimes you can look right in the Forest and find things that are not correct. Maybe people post in hopes that agencies will clean up. After 2 times I am sure we all can rest easy knowing everything is very clean and everyone is working more hours than what they are being paid for and regardless that you can hire a person and pay less, why do that. That would require good management skills. So no more investigative reporting until media makes enough money to allow a reporter to open up a very good story. The regular citizen just can not get a call past the operator

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 17th, 2020 11:58 AM

Here's an idea, for all the uninformed people bitching and moaning about how government is the problem and elected officials are all hacks, blah blah blah AND that the media is fake and corrupt:. .. get off your asses and monitor the dozen or more websites that post IG and other reports reports quarterly or annually, read them, find out what's actually happening then get on the phone and ask officials about it. That's was good newspapers do. Of course, you can always just continue to post inaccurate, uninformed drivel here... which is SO much easier than actually delving into matters and discerning the facts.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 17th, 2020 11:14 AM

It is very good investigative reporting although it happened not once. It happened a second time. Now there are no reporters to investigate if it is happening a third time. There should always be check and balances of public departments so no one department gets overloaded with money and needs to use it up or other departments get underfunded and need to be supported. That takes a department person to come in and find out if the payroll is being padded or if they need more money. That is how it should work and it was suppose to work like that years ago. So maybe Tom MacMillan does make a good amount of sense although the bottom line is if there is no one accounting for each employees function and how to streamline it then maybe another investigative reporter can take a look at it if Tom MacMillan does have concerns. That is the right of tax payers to make sure their money is not being wasted and could be better used in another area that may be underfunded

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 17th, 2020 10:40 AM

Correction. That was the Governor's Office of the Executive Inspector General.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 17th, 2020 9:49 AM

Google a bit and you'll find the WJ published their story about a week after my article appeared in another publication, which I reported and wrote after reading a report by the Cook County IG. I know what I'm talking about, T.Mac. You don't. And the truth is that the OP Township leadership responded immediately and substantively when they were told one of their supervisors was engaging in misconduct.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 11:56 PM

It is about trust and the Township isn't a trustworthy organization, so why would we ever let them build and hold big balances of funds? And saying it is some rogue supervisor is lame, as it was their employee and it happened multiple times. I'm sure someone uses Township services, but many of us don't or haven't. It is always ok to question these so called critical things around town and the so called numbers that support their being critical, since we have seen the system getting gamed around here.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 11:24 PM

Tom MacMillan thank you for the link. It reminds me of how Chicago was known to count people who already passed away during elections. It also reminds me when you could pay a parking ticket and the woman was taking the cash to the wrong place in Oak Park. I am sure glad those days are over and we have people who know what integrity is and if they know something is wrong that they report it to the right place or they walk away and not be involved in it just to keep a job

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 11:08 PM

Somehow the author who broke the story wasn't named Dwyer. Always a good read about our Township at work though, faking numbers to justify its existence.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 6:59 PM

I broke that story. T. Mac. And I know for a fact the township did not "fake" those numbers. A big hulking supervisor who intimidated people under him did. Really, sport, try knowing what you're talking about. You just sound cheap and ignorant.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 6:34 PM

Lived in town 35 years, never used a Township service. Paid for them, never used any. Sorry Bill if that is telling to you if anyone in town hasn't needed this. Other than them getting caught faking the numbers on the Pace buses, they haven't been in the news that much.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 4:09 PM

Tom, Seniors get daily meals at the Township offices every day. There is a lending library for rehab equipment at the Township. There is youth service programming, Tax appeal season has been active the last few months. If you wouldn't miss the township, BR VERY THANKFUL. It's the social services arm for OP.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 11:13 AM

You haven't much of an imagination then,, TMac. There are many people in OP who would be impacted by the absence of OP Township services. Your comment is quite telling.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 10:52 AM

Having a really hard time imagining whether anyone would even notice if the Township shut down for several months.

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: October 16th, 2020 9:11 AM

These ballot questions speak to two specific approaches to thinking about spending in the village. But the greater question is how we can get the most of our governmental bodies without continually raising taxes. Like many families whose children are past the school years, we are already looking into downsizing or moving to a more affordable community.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: October 15th, 2020 6:50 PM

The two advisory referendum questions that appear on the November 3 ballot center on fiscal accountability and transparency regarding excessive cash reserves and the funding of major capital projects of our six taxing bodies. It's time consuming and nearly impossible for a taxpayer to follow each taxing body, asking questions and raising concerns about funding issues. While these referendum questions are non-binding, they should initiate discussion at the boards of all of our taxing bodies. It's a discussion that is long overdue. Affordability or lack of it is one of the greatest threats to all types of diversity in Oak Park. Regarding Question #1, six months cash reserve should be ample for each of our taxing bodies. In Question #2, while the $5 million funding cap is debatable, the intent is clear that funding for major capital projects should be voted on and approved by taxpayers, projects such as the park district's community recreation center, the Imagine project at OPRF and a new police station for the village. The measures proposed in the advisory referendums would help restore trust in our taxing bodies for many taxpayers.

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