March 14th, 2017 4:03 PM
By Jack Crowe
Nile Wendorf did a public service in a recent Viewpoint, pointing out that between 2006 and 2016, property taxes in Oak Park increased by 32 percent [The only option is saying no, Viewpoints, Feb. 22]. That's compared to an 11 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index. Which means that Oak Park property taxes increased more than three times inflation during the Great Recession.
What is the impact? Low wage earners move out of Oak Park. Senior citizens leave town. Dan Haley moves to Berwyn. We push out the people we care about.
While talking diversity, we created a tax policy directly contrary.
With each new tax increase, the argument is the same: it's only some hundreds per household. Don't look at the total property tax over time.
I thought about this when I received a mailing from District 97 on its two referenda.
According to Wendorf, D97's tax haul over the last 10 years increased from $45 to $62 million, or 36 percent. Where does it end? It doesn't. If the referenda pass, Oak Park will become a more affluent and less economically diverse town. It's that simple.
Two D97 items are up for a vote. One is spending $60 million on facilities. Do you know what we are buying for $60 million? Neither do I. The D97 website is vague, listing something about maintenance and repairs ($60 million worth?), accessibility upgrades (a good thing too but $60 million?), more modern classrooms (not that expensive) and undefined "complete expansions at Holmes, Lincoln and Longfellow."
What seems to be happening? The $60 million is a plug number set to keep the tax assessment even as the 1999 middle school construction bonds expire. Is that good tax policy?
The other part of the referenda relates to operating expenses, purportedly caused by a baby boomlet. But I suspect the need for the increase is driven more by annual increases in the teachers union contract which so often exceed inflation.
If we value living in a diverse community, there is one response to this conundrum: reject the referenda.
And if anyone feels guilty voting "against the kids," vote for the operating cost referendum, but against the $60 million capital referendum.
Future Oak Parkers will thank you.
To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2017 Answer Book, please click here.
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