Oak Park trustee candidate would reduce spending

Baron says annual budget should be capped at 3 percent

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Bridgett Baron, 49, has been a familiar face in government for years, regularly showing up to Oak Park Village Board of Trustees meetings, among others, and regularly weighing in on various social media forums.

She's running for a seat on the board of trustees in the April 2 election on a platform of reduced spending and responsible development downtown. She also says she would be a strong voice for public safety in the village.

Baron works in the motion picture and television industry as a payroll accountant.

In an election where intergovernmental cooperation between the village's various taxing bodies, such as the school districts, township and village, are a hot topic of conversation, Baron might have an edge over her 10 opponents when it comes to finding common ground on spending – she is married to Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 board member Matt Baron.

She noted in a recent interview that the village oversees a budget around $150 million – the biggest of all the taxing bodies, she said. Baron said she would work to slow the growth of the tax levy to 3 percent or less.

Baron said her idea is to direct village staff to present the board with a budget every year the keeps the levy at that 3 percent increase and no more.

"It's their job – they're full-time employees," she told Wednesday Journal. "Unless they get direction, they're not going to do that. It's not in government DNA to restrain spending."

Baron also would direct roughly $3.5 million in property tax revenues from downtown high-rises to ease the tax burden on property owners throughout the village.

"[We need to say] we're not going to spend this new revenue; we're going to do what it was designed to do and that is ease the tax burden," Baron said. 

Baron also would focus on cutting spending on programs like the Divvy bike-sharing program, which trustees cut last year after it was revealed that few people were using the costly service.

"Divvy is a perfect example, because that decision was poorly made," she said. "It was made in the absence of data."

Baron said she would make decisions that "benefit as many people as possible."

"It can't be just a small, vocal group of advocates wanting something," she said.

A lot of residents, particularly those in jeopardy of being priced out of the village, have historically been unwilling to voice their opposition to spending over fear of being labeled anti-bicycle or anti-environment, she said.

"Now people are willing to put their head above the crowd and say it," she said.

Baron said she is concerned about high-rise developments downtown and would not support a recently proposed 28-story tower near Frank Lloyd Wright's Unity Temple.

Oak Park needs to have a new community conversation about such developments in the village and what residents want the village to look like, she said.

"We did a master plan five years ago. Can we look at what we say we want and see if that's still viable?" she said.

Baron said the village also needs to have an honest conversation about affordable housing and which residents such a housing ordinance would serve.

"I think the real issue is we have people living in extreme poverty, and how do we help those people," she said, adding that putting a few affordable units in luxury housing developments would do little to solve the problem.

She noted that Oak Park's housing stock is now considered 22 percent affordable, according to the definition set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That's up from 18 percent a few years ago.

"Apparently, 22 percent is not acceptable," she said. "What is the acceptable percent? I have no idea what the goal is, because 22 percent seems pretty good to me."

Baron said she would be a strong proponent for increased public safety in the village, but added that "police can't do everything on their own."

She would encourage residents to attend resident beat-officer meetings in their neighborhoods.

Baron noted that perception is not reality and that crime is historically down overall in the village. She said she would work to craft public safety policy "based on facts, rather than how someone feels."

tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Bridgett Baron  

Posted: April 1st, 2019 6:18 PM

Hi David, To answer your question: No. The Village works without a tax cap. Oak Park is "home rule" meaning that they can increase the levy to whatever they desire. And they have. Since 2000, the Village's levy (not Oak Park's total levy, put the Village of Oak Park, the $170 million budget, the biggest budget of all the taxing bodies) has increased its property tax levy by 160%. To put that in context, inflation over the same period grew 43%. In other words, the Village's levy has grown by almost 4x the rate of inflation. Hope that helps.

Dave Slade from Oak Park  

Posted: April 1st, 2019 2:25 PM

Far from knowledgeable on this sort of stuff, but isn't 3% the maximum levy the village can impart each year as a hike? If so, than it sounds like all we are doing is keeping the status quo. Still waiting to see my tax bill reduce due to all the construction at Lake & Harlem.

Kitty Conklin  

Posted: April 1st, 2019 10:28 AM

Bridgett has my support in this election! I have known Bridgett for the last couple of years and have seen her involvement first hand in understanding the operations of the VOP. Bridget is fact based and data driven and these skills will enable her to make educated decisions in the role of Trustee. Bridgett has my vote!

Michael Nevins  

Posted: March 3rd, 2019 10:58 AM

Ditto what KM said earlier today. I'm also thinking that Cory Wesley would bring similar strengths to the board. I also like Vic Guarino and Amanda Massie for their new blood/ideas at D200. Nothing against any of the other candidates but OP, IMO, definitely needs people like this today. Lastly, I defer to the wisdom of NP, RL, NB, BS, TM, JBR, etc. to guide me in voting for any other candidates. Thank you.

Kline Maureen  

Posted: March 3rd, 2019 9:45 AM

Years before I got to know her personally, I developed great respect for Bridgett from reading her always intelligent comments at oakpark.com. She is clear-thinking and well-reasoned in her comments, and writes fact-based, rather than emotion-based, responses. She respectful of others and tries to offer actual answers rather than empty platitudes. As I've gotten to know her over the past five years, my high opinion of her has only been strengthened. Plus she truly plans to keep tax-payers' interests in mind and hold the line of spending. She would make an EXCELLENT trustee for the Village!

Jim Frenkel  

Posted: March 1st, 2019 5:06 PM

Wow- a Trustee candidate who clearly has done her homework on the issues, understands the decisionmaking processes and working of the OP system, and dares to offer specifics on possible solutions? AND clearly has an analytical mind who thinks about objective data vs. vague gut beliefs? Where has she BEEN all this time? Certainly a strong candidate for my vote!

Brian Souders  

Posted: February 28th, 2019 5:42 PM

It seems like Bridgett is just the type of candidate we need on the board ?" understanding that financially, we can't do everything everyone wants and still keep Oak Park affordable. And as James said, she has realistic ideas on how to hold the line on spending. I also like her dedication to data-driven decisions, like on Divvy, affordable housing, crime perception, etc. Real vs. feel.

James Peters from Oak Park  

Posted: February 27th, 2019 6:17 PM

Bridgett is a step ahead of most candidates. She goes beyond saying, "We have a tax problem in Oak Park." She offers doable solutions. A 3% levy cap for the Village, as an example, is one solution. That's not anti-growth nor, "slash taxes." It is a realistic assessment of spending that looks at value for expenditure. We need people who think like that to keep Oak Park a good place to live.

Leslie Sutphen  

Posted: February 27th, 2019 4:44 PM

At long last we have a candidate who is concerned about growth in spending and runaway taxes. And I so appreciate how Bridgett always does her homework and carefully analyzes problems and presents proposals for solutions. She is not a complainer; rather, she is a caring and thoughtful person who would greatly enhance the composition of the Trustees. I heartily endorse Bridgett for this role!

Jason Sherman  

Posted: February 27th, 2019 10:37 AM

I love that we have a candidate greatly focused on our village budget. It's central to how and if we achieve our broader goals. We can't have it all. Also the suppression of our home values is a big deal and directly tied to the tax burden.

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