Taxpayers in Oak Park have been nothing but generous with each and every local taxing body over the two decades-plus when a portion of rising property values within the downtown Oak Park and the Madison Street TIFs were being diverted into a fund to support economic development.
Whether it was passing multiple tax hike referendums for OPRF and District 97, enthusiastically backing a tax hike to build an iconic new library, paying enough in property taxes to allow Oak Park Township to squirrel away funds for its additional building on Oak Park Avenue, passing a substantial referendum to seemingly perpetually upgrade parks that had grown shabby, Oak Parkers have given till it hurts.
Not a single taxing body has been left wanting by local taxpayers during the TIF years. D97 built a much-needed new headquarters. The park district substantially remade its headquarters. A greedy District 200 OPRF High School used a quirk in the tax law to substantially overtax property owners while it accumulated its absurd $120 million fund balance.
And that doesn't count the year-to-year tax hikes allowed under state tax caps.
Now a property tax burden has left many homeowners and multifamily and commercial property owners groaning under the pressure of the second mortgage high taxes represent. There was a reasonable expectation that when the TIFs finally expired, as they are with the close of this year, and when new taxes flowed from the multiple high-rises in downtown, elected officials would do the right thing and let some of the hard-won benefits flow through to taxpayers. Most people would have cheered increases flattening out for a bit. Only the naïve would have expected taxes to decline.
Oak Park's village government — the taxing body least reliant on property taxes due to its endless home rule options of fees and fines — has laudably not taken the TIF bump. Every other local taxing body headed straight to the trough. Each has made some sort of rationalization. Most of them have finalized levies for next year.
But District 97 still has a small window to reconsider and do the right thing. The school board meets tonight (Wednesday). After being urged to reconsider, the township reversed its decision to take the entire amount of TIF funds available and voted instead to take 38 percent.
And the park district, which got an earful from frustrated taxpayers at its Committee of the Whole meeting last week, has its final vote pending. The library board, which may have made the most egregious money grab with the weakest explanation of why it needs this windfall, has seemingly cancelled its final meeting of the year.
(And, early warning, watch what this board does with the soon-to-be -paid-off bonding power voters approved for the new library 20 years back. That's a million bucks annually the library board president says the library just might keep.)
There is still time for every taxing body to come to its senses, if nothing else to make the political calculation that the good work most are doing on complex issues such as equity can be undone in the next election by fairly small numbers of very angry taxpayers.
Snap out of it. Do the right thing.
Answer Book 2019
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