Oak Park slashes budget by millions

Cuts largely come from proposed elevator, Marion streetscape project


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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Park's village board cut millions of dollars from the 2019 budget at its Dec. 3 board meeting, most notably cutting $150,000 from the budget of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and $33,618 from a proposed increase in the budget of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center.

The meeting became heated at times, with members of various partner agencies advocating for funding and trustees passionately debating funding the various services.

Two budget items were also added to the discussion for recommended cuts that were not on the agenda but added prior to the meeting by trustees Simone Boutet and Dan Moroney. Those items included cutting $1.7 million for an elevator for people with disabilities at Village Hall and another $2 million for a streetscape project for Marion Street north of Lake.

The board of trustees directed Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and staff in November to find additional $1 million in cuts to the 2019 budget. Staff returned with a suggested $519,818 in cuts.

Much of the debate centered around cuts to the Oak Park Regional Housing Center, which works to ensure diversity in the village by encouraging new residents to live in areas of town that are underrepresented by various races. The organization, for decades, has encouraged white renters to live east of Ridgeland near the majority black Chicago neighborhood of Austin and for black renters to live west of Ridgeland, where the demographic leans white.

Trustees Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney argued that the housing center has failed to meet its benchmarks for encouraging integration. The village historically has funded the organization with as much as $425,000 annually. The goal of the organization is to secure 600 affirmative moves annually of people of different races to underrepresented parts of town in an effort to fight segregation in the village.

This year the housing center met about half of that goal. The proposed cut, which was approved by the trustees, was for $33,618, the amount the group's budget would have increased this year.

Leaders of the non-profit argued that they are working on a strategic plan to get the number of affirmative moves back up to 600 a year.

Trustee Simone Boutet argued that cutting the budget would not help the housing center in its mission to improve its numbers. Moroney suggested that the organization's funding level should be based on its success ratio – if they get only 300 affirmative moves, they should only get half of their allotted funding for the year, he argued.

The Oak Park Police Department also backed down on its plan to hire three new police officers next year, reducing the number of new hires to only two. That single hiring reduction will save the village about $120,000, according to LaDon Reynolds, acting police chief.

The Oak Park Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental organization tasked with bringing new business to the village had its budget of $720,000 cut by $120,000 at the meeting. Staff suggested a cut of $71,000, which is the amount OPEDC typically returns to the village every year unused.

Trustee Andrews suggested more than doubling the cut to $150,000, noting that it's about the amount of money OPEDC spent this year on a marketing campaign for the village. "We need to do more with less," Andrews said.

The meeting became heated when a budget item was brought forth by trustees Boutet and Moroney to cut a $1.7 million expenditure to install a new elevator in Village Hall for those with disabilities. The item was not one of village staff's suggested cuts and not noted in the agenda.

The meeting became caustic when Trustee Bob Tucker attempted to argue for the elevator. Tucker began telling a story about how his father has never been able to attend one of the board meetings because of mobility issues. Tucker was repeatedly cut off by Boutet.

Tucker, visibly shaken, ultimately declined to continue in the debate.

"We're using a lot of emotion to talk about something that factually is not there," Boutet argued after Tucker discontinued his argument. Boutet said residents can still enter the chambers by taking an elevator on the west side of the building and a lift near the council chambers.

Tucker argued that there was no transparency to the public in bringing the issue up without public notice.

Boutet said after the meeting that no one wants the elevator other than Village Manager Cara Pavlicek and village staff. Asked if she contacted anyone at the Oak Park Disability Access Commission on the topic, Boutet acknowledged that she had not.

She said Tucker's argument concerning his father was "manipulative," reiterating that no one has ever asked for the elevator. She said she has never attended a meeting of the Disability Access Commission.

The village also reduced funding to the Oak Park Area Arts Council by $30,000 and cut another $50,000 for building improvements at one of the village's fire stations. That money would have been used to establish gender specific locker rooms for female firefighters.

* This story was updated to clarify that Bob Tucker's father does not have a disability but mobility issues.


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Tom Leeds  

Posted: December 11th, 2018 12:28 PM

Jane Moore River Forest. If you live their your opinion doesn't hold water. Besides, the article points out that it is not hitting its goal and is less than 60% which is a failure in my book. They want half their raise. That sort of performance should result in dismissal.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: December 10th, 2018 10:22 AM

Talking just about saving tax payer money in general. Does Oak Park still send its water bill by mail in a first class envelope, with return envelope that most of us don't use (most of us are on E-pay) and a full size sheet of paper for a bill. Maybe village should go back to the perforated post card, tear off the half needed to pay the bill, keep then other half for your record. I filed a FOIA on how, when, why the change from post card to 1st lass mail with no results.

Neal Buer  

Posted: December 10th, 2018 9:12 AM

Chuck, the housing center was useful 40 years ago. It lost its usefulness 20 to 30 years ago. If it is so necessary, why don't they exist through private donations, like they did when they started? If we want to help people, hand the money out to the Salvation Army.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 10th, 2018 12:06 AM

Lack of knowledge? Failure is failure. At best, the Housing Center impacts a few percent of local moves. It would be a joke if we were not being forced to fund it. The Housing Center is really good at only one thing, taking credit for things that they really had very little impact on.

Chuck Raymond from Oak Park  

Posted: December 6th, 2018 8:01 PM

Comments from Wellington and McMillan regarding the accomplishments of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center demonstrate a lack of knowledge of the Center's area-wide fair housing programs. Expanding options to accomplish long-term diversity is not illegal. When white flight reached Austin Blvd in 1972, the Center disproved predictions by experts that Oak Park would experience the Chicago pattern of block by block change, with a loss of real estate values. Without the programs that continue today, we would not see developers fighting to get their feet in the door.

Nick Polido  

Posted: December 6th, 2018 4:44 PM

Senior Municipal Staff Oak Park,Il: Show Cara Pavlicek, Village Manager $188,000 Show Lisa Shelley, Deputy Village Manager $132,000 Show Paul Stephanides, Village Attorney $167,683 Show Robert Anderson, Adjudication Director $103,222 Show David Powers, Communications Director $100,250 Show Cedric Melton, Community Relations Director $109,266 Show Tammie Grossman, Development Customer Services Director $144,628 Show Steven Drazner, Chief Financial Officer/Treasurer $144,254 Show Thomas Ebsen, Fire Chief $144,502 Show Michael T. Charley, Health Director $101,509 Show Julia Scott-Valdez, Human Resources Director $137,483 Show Alvin Nepomuceno, Information Technology Director $126,473 Show LaDon Reynolds, Interim Police Chief $131,123 Show John Wielebnicki, Public Works Director $153,103 Total Senior payroll excluded health and pension benefots $1,883,496.00

Robert Milstein  

Posted: December 6th, 2018 2:51 PM

I suggest a $1.7 million dollar buyout of President Abu Taleb and he resign. Interesting that his bullying tactics are hardly noted by the media. The Manager and President along with his/her minions continue to sock it to the public. One less police officer, but we get an unneeded elevator. I understand the need for a person with a disability to have access. However, they have access now.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: December 6th, 2018 11:40 AM

Actually, one could argue that Housing Center is promoting racial discrimination instead of reducing it. East of Ridgeand landlords want to have white renters, but they can't say it out loud or mention it in advertizing, because that would be illegal. Enter the Housing Center which hand-delivers the desired tenants to them under the guise of reducing the segregation. Do social justice activists so determined to fund this institution actually understand what they're supporting?

Alex Garcia  

Posted: December 6th, 2018 8:46 AM

A $1.7 million elevator? A housing center that specializes in dubious social engineering and can't even meet the goals it sets for itself? Good grief.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 4:44 PM

I wish someone would call out the total BS on the Housing Center. Their goal is 600 so called affirmative moves? And they only got 300 ? And that is probably really only 20 with them claiming another 280 that happened with or without them. And how many total moves happen in a year: 5000? So their impact is puny. Either way, they produce zero value and are a total waste of taxpayer funds. But another year goes by giving them money. What a waste. We are never going to see lower property taxes when Trustees are too afraid to actually cut the rotting meat off the bone.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:54 PM

A call for transparency by Trustee Tucker is laughable and certainly contrary to his record as a Village trustee. He has most recently served mainly to be a "rubber stamp" along with trustees Button and Taglia for Abu-Taleb. Tucker shrugs his shoulders, rolls his eyes and cracks wise when he has the floor during board meetings but has rarely expressed an opinion or position that is contrary to the Village President. Tucker sat quietly for months and never publicly spoke out against the bullying tactics of Abu-Taleb directed towards Trustee Boutet. The next time Tucker promotes real transparency in Village government will be the first!

Margy Feley  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:44 PM

Sorry for the double comment, comment wouldn't post and no way to delete.

Margy Feley  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:40 PM

If I'm not mistaken, it was Trustee Tucker at a recent board meeting who thought his life was in peril when crossing Madison St. Therefore, we needed the "road diet".

Margy Feley from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:33 PM

If I'm not mistaken, it was Trustee Tucker that also said at a board meeting that he had difficulty crossing Madison St. without fear for his life's safety, so therefore, we needed the "road diet".

Neal Buer  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:15 PM

The only number that matters is how much more is the village spending than last year. Also, I don't think the village has a charter to dole out tax money to "partners, no matter how good the cause. "Yes, we cut $2 million from the budget, unfortunately, overall spending went up 5%" isn't something any taxpayer wants to hear. So, based on the budget, how much will spending increase next year?

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 8:15 PM

Trustee Tucker was not accurately describing how disabled individuals access Village Hall. Trustee Boutet did attempt on several occasions attempt to inform him of the facts but Tucker chose to ramble on. Boutet explained how she herself coped with a temporary disability while serving as an Oak Park employee and that a wheelchair dependent relative was also able to access Village Hall. She correctly noted that disabled individuals regularly attend meetings and avail themselves of government services. Tucker may have been tired due to the length of the board meeting but there is no excuse for him to try make spending more than a million dollars a personal issue.

Alice Wellington  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 7:49 PM

So what irreparable harm will come to the Village if we don't spend $708 per person to steer white renters to the apartments East of Ridgeland? Because face it, the minority renters who wish to live West of Ridgeland have absolutely nothing stopping them from doing so. Yet I'm sure that Housing Center is counting them as affirmative moves, too, making the true cost of their services even higher.

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 6:25 PM

The North Marion Street streetscape of $2MM is not in the 2019 budget. So you can't cut something that is not there in the first place. What was discussed was a line item in the 2019 budget that is for preliminary design engineering work, to look at the cost of concrete and other materials, for North Marion Street. It's a $35K line item, and it was *not* cut. The issue, and the debate at the Board table, is that the Lake Street streetscape was approved for $12MM earlier this year. And part of approving that $12MM, was cutting the $2MM portion for North Marion Street. However, the $35K design engineering work could be seen as a foreshadowing to spending the $2MM in 2020, for something that, in 2018, was not approved.

Leonard Grossman  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 5:23 PM

I'm confused. The headline mentions the elevator and the Marion strertscape but the article stresses cutting $150,000 from the budget of the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation and $33,618 from a proposed increase in the budget of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center. Which is it?

Mike Hanline  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 5:04 PM

$1.7M for an elevator is ridiculous. The Oak Park Regional Housing Center is not needed (this is an income/housing values matter, not a race matter). And why do we need OEDC when the village gives away land and tax breaks to anyone who asks for it anyway?

Jane Moore from River forest  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 5:02 PM

It is short-sighted to cut funding to the Housing Center. This organization provides crucial support for the community's ongoing work supporting a successfully integrated community. Especially in this time of fear and divisiveness, it is critical to support efforts to create the kind of community we want.

Mary White Thomason from Oak Park, Il   

Posted: December 4th, 2018 4:52 PM

Funny, I thought the cuts seemed to be coming from the streets department with all the piles of leaves around the village

Al Rossell  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 4:37 PM

1.7 Million for an elevator? Get serious. Who is smoking something? Or maybe this was for oe of the high rises?

Jennifer Malloy Quinlan  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 4:23 PM

So, the budget is millions less than last year?

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 3:59 PM

While we can debate which things should be kept and which taken out, I appreciate that tough choices are being made-- particularly since failure to do so effectively shifts the tough choices to the taxpayers, who have to do the same with the less after tax income that remains.

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