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Consolidating governments is not the answer

Opinion: Columns

July 17th, 2018 12:13 PM

By Bob Milstein

One View

Consolidation of governments, Oak Park Township and the village of Oak Park, sounds good, and I am sure the village president would love some more control of tax dollars. 

Why? Why do we need to merge the village with the township? Is the township not functioning well? Are seniors not receiving good service? Is Ali ElSaffar no longer providing excellent service on tax appeals? Are seniors without meal deliveries? Has the leadership failed to keep taxes reasonable, while providing excellent service to citizens? 

Currently, the township leads the effort to help troubled youth through their Youth Interventionist Program and a second program, Face It, which address teen drug and alcohol abuse. These programs are funded by several governments and should stay under the township umbrella. 

What dollar value do we put on all the intangibles provided by the township? How many dollars will we save? 

For those counting your pennies, your property taxes will not go down if the village absorbs the township. Your property taxes are going up, and they are not going to go down if the village takes over every service in the township. 

Furthermore, new layers of bureaucracy will likely be added at the village to handle new tasks. Will the personnel at the township lose their jobs? Will the village have to retrain any staff to handle issues they currently do not address? Wait, currently the village has a high attrition rate of employees, so who indeed will provide the services? 

Why, at a time when village employees are quitting, chafing under village management, do we want the village to take control of the township? What the public sees and hears is written in Wednesday Journal, so will the Journal look closer at the state of the village? 

Our township government is well run, tax efficient, very service focused and does not need the village. The village does not need to absorb the responsibilities of the services provided. 

The solution to reducing taxes does not start with a consolidation. We need to spend money first — to save money later. What should be considered is a large multi-government facility that brings all services under a single roof. The schools, parks, village, and township should be under one roof. Convert the current village hall into a police station. Modernize the police facilities as they are outdated and too small. Stop keeping the police hidden in the basement of village hall. 

Over time, investing in a one-stop government center will save tax dollars. 

In addition, the village's pro-business, pro-developer philosophy will not bring taxes down. The high-rise mentality is reducing Oak Park's historic look, will bring higher taxes, and, while an Urban Target is a great addition, we need affordable housing, too. Oak Park's economic diversity can only be maintained by requiring affordable units in every high-rise (condo or apartment). 

Pro-business and pro-developer policies also require pro-citizen policies. The deep-seated belief that increased density comes with no downsides is simply wrong. Yes, the village needs thriving businesses, excellent housing and new development. What the village does not need is more 20-story apartment buildings with a false promise of saving homeowner taxes. 

Property taxes to the village are around 16 percent of the current tax pie. School taxes account for 64 to 66 percent of all tax dollars. The township is not a tax burden. Let the president and the board do zero-based budgets and work to develop greater efficiencies in service delivery — that's their job. 

We are constantly asking the village to control property taxes for the village as a whole. They are not the government we need to focus on. They do not have the highest taxes in terms of total dollars — look at the schools. If you want quality, education you have to pay for it. So how do we do that with fewer dollars? 

Yes, the state is trying to address the funding issues, which in their last attempt did not help Oak Park. If schools were not funded by property taxes we would be better off. If the property tax system funding schools were swapped with a new graduated income tax — with the wealthy carrying a higher share — we would get the school funds we need, and we could get away from property taxation for education. 

Lastly, if we are going to continue the growth of the population in high-density areas with high-rises, then developers must be asked to pay an education surcharge tax. This surcharge cannot be passed on to the citizens in any form. Developers will still make a profit. 

There are many ways to change governing, but consolidation is not an answer to rising costs. Consolidation will not reduce property taxes and will likely degrade services to citizens.

Robert Milstein is an Oak Park resident and a former village trustee.