Consolidation vote headed to the ballot

Oak Parkers to decide in November whether to study merging taxing bodies

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Oak Parkers will be asked on the Nov. 6 ballot whether the village should further study consolidating the village government with three other taxing bodies – Oak Park Township, the Park District of Oak Park and Oak Park Public Library.

The advisory referendum will not be legally binding and will simply ask whether the village should study the issue.

Asking the question comes at the recommendation of the Taxing Bodies Efficiencies Task Force, which was established earlier this year by the village board to find cost savings in the village to help reduce property taxes.

The ballot question has been opposed by members of the various boards of the three smaller taxing bodies, many of whom have argued that asking the question constitutes a hostile takeover by the village.

David Pope, chairman of the task force and former village president, said the goal is to find ways to do more with less and that the task force will bring more recommendations to the board later in August. 

The question on the ballot will read: "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?"

The referendum was approved with five trustees voting yes, Trustee Simone Boutet voting no and Trustee Andrea Button absent.

As at last week's meeting, residents and board members of other taxing bodies voiced their opposition to the referendum. 

Kent Dean, of the group Oak Park Call to Action, said the question is unnecessary without more information. "Let's have an answer to the question of where to find efficiencies within the village and then come back to voters," he said, adding that he believes the referendum is "laying the groundwork for a campaign".

Boutet echoed the thought, saying the village needs to study the issue more before taking the question to voters. 

"We have many elections," she said. "Why don't we take the time to do our homework?"

Trustee Jim Taglia said the move is not an attempt at a "hostile takeover" of the other taxing bodies. "It's not about increasing the authority of the village or board in any way, shape or form," he said. "It's never been about cutting services."

Oak Park Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb emphasized that considering consolidation is a "structural issue" and not a "people issue." 

"This house has structural problems that cannot be corrected by a fresh coat of paint or reorganizing the furniture," he said. 

Abu-Taleb criticized Boutet for "accusations of conspiracy" and added that the vote is just to give the village guidance on whether to proceed.

"Trustee Boutet talks about transparency – what is not transparent about putting the question on the ballot?" he said.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

Reader Comments

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Teresa Powell  

Posted: August 3rd, 2018 8:27 AM

I worked with the I-Gov committee representing all 6 local governments for several years while I was Clerk. These governments are already consolidating services in areas like maintenance of trucks and equipment (Parks and VOP), printing services (D97 and VOP), collaboration for Early Childhood (schools and VOP) and Youth Interventionist (all governments). We have excellent services in Parks, Library and Township (which addresses vital services for youth, seniors and taxpayers) because the boards have the authority from us, the voters, to make these vital services a priority. I fear that these would be lost if they are taken over by a board whose priorities are elsewhere.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: August 1st, 2018 10:53 PM

@Andrew Pat: Well said. I absolutely agree with your analysis. If the VOP was really interested in controlling taxes, the first thing they would do would be - as you say - act as if they had a cap on spending (such as the Township); which they presently do not.

Andrew Pat from Oak Park  

Posted: August 1st, 2018 6:22 PM

If consolidation has the potential to reduce costs, why do we need a referendum? The Village already has the authority to consider and analyze this. The referendum gives them no authority they don't already have. But consultants are expensive, so when they come back and find little economic benefit, or announce that consolidating is not legally feasible or practical, the Trustees will point to us, fellow voters, as the ones responsible for these costs. Were this not the case, the Trustees would do a consolidation analysis knowing that it would be a political win for them to present evidence showing us the value to OP of consolidation. But they aren't. On it's face the referendum looks great. But it's evident that the Trustees pushing this are hoping people will see the phrase "tax reduction" and "efficiencies" and not bother to look behind the curtain. Note that the question is phrased in the passive voice. It's meaningless...until people start complaining about how much the analysis (consultants!) costs and see the limitations on consolidating, then the Village Trustees will point to the referendum and say, "we're just doing what you wanted." If this is about taxes, why not start with subjecting the Village to the same cap on tax increases that limits the other taxing bodies and see how they do with that? That's something I would vote for. If the Village can't support or manage that, then consolidating the more efficient bodies into the Village is certain to be a disaster, giving us no tax reduction and reducing what we get for those taxes. I refuse to be a shield for people afraid to do the hard work required of their position and will vote No on this in November.

Margy Feley  

Posted: August 1st, 2018 8:14 AM

I'll be saying YES to studying the consolidation of village government with other taxing bodies. Our property taxes are obscene. I'm trying to leave Oak Park but my house is languishing on the market. If I can't sell, I'd at least like people to start thinking about stopping unbridled spending that we can't afford and start to think about ways we can reduce our property taxes. This huge tax burden is making Oak Park unaffordable and unattractive to potential residents who would like to live here because of all the wonderful things that Oak Park has to offer.

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