Should taxing bodies consolidate?

Referendum will ask Oak Parkers whether to study merging government entities

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Early voting has begun in the upcoming election set for Nov. 6 and Oak Parkers are faced with a question of whether the village should pursue consolidating various taxing bodies under one administrative umbrella. 

The nonbinding referendum has been controversial, with advocates arguing that it could save taxpayers in administrative costs and opponents calling it a power grab by the village.

The question reads as follows: "Shall the merger and consolidation of Oak Park taxing bodies be considered, including, but not limited to, the Village of Oak Park, Oak Park Township, the Oak Park Public Library and the Park District of Oak Park, to determine if there would be efficiencies, the elimination of redundancies, and/or property tax reduction for the residents of Oak Park?"

Approval of the referendum, proposed by the Taxing Bodies Efficiencies Task Force, an ad hoc committee created by the Oak Park Board of Trustees, would give the village the green light to move forward with studying consolidation. 

Oak Park Township Supervisor Claremarie Keenan said in a written statement that the township's position "has been to provide information and clarity around the issues — not campaign with a position.  

"Misinformation and inaccuracies are circulating and we have tried to stick with the facts," the statement notes. "All along, we have stated we are not opposed to finding efficiencies and savings. We have several partnerships/collaborations in place which speak to our commitment to savings and efficiencies."

The statement adds that neither the creation of the task force nor the creation of the referendum were "collaborative or transparent." 

"Through all of this, we have continued and will continue to provide our services to the community efficiently and collaboratively," the township statement notes.

Diane Stanke, a spokesperson for the park district, released a statement noting that the park district "continues to strive to provide quality programs and facilities to meet the needs of Oak Park residents.  

"We are generating almost 50 percent of our budget through earned revenue, which is an increase from 29 percent in 2012," the statement reads. "The park district agrees that taxes need to be evaluated, but there is no proof that consolidation saves money. However, there is research that shows that consolidation can reduce services. 

"The park district collaborates with all of the Oak Park taxing bodies and we look forward to continuing to find ways to collaborate to reduce expenses and redundancies."

Reader Comments

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Jason Cohen  

Posted: October 31st, 2018 9:10 PM

@Al, I think you have the facts wrong. As I understand it the exact opposite happened. The park district tried repeatedly to work with the school and couldn't get anywhere. OPRF has a large amount of cash. It made sense for the park district to work with the school to build something and share the cost. OPRF didn't seem interested and I think the reason is obvious now. OPRF wants a new pool on campus and that's the only option they are willing to discuss.

Monica Sheehan  

Posted: October 31st, 2018 8:00 PM

Al, It's my understanding that it has been OPRF that has been unwilling to collaborate on a joint pool with the park district. Such a collaboration would result in a practical and cost-effective resource for the community and school.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: October 31st, 2018 7:49 PM

They did not "expand" Ridgeland Common. They revamped the athletic fields and rebuilt the pool complex and building. As I recall- could be wrong here- D200 wasn't willing to give up space in the field across Lake Street from the parking garage. I know for certain the failure to come to an agreement on shared use wasn't solely the park district's fault.

Al Berggren from Oak Park  

Posted: October 31st, 2018 5:15 PM

My understanding is that the Park District was invited to collaborate with OPRF at the time they were planning the expansion of Ridgeland Common and declined. They felt they had the votes to pass a referendum and wanted the revenue themselves. They won! In retrospect, the taxpayers would have been better served by building a new enclosed pool at the west end where OPRF could use it ?" and the taxpayers would have saved the $200 MILLION that OPRF now plans to spend on a new pool. All the while, the Park District is stealing fitness and yoga revenue from the private clubs whose taxes subsidize them.

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