Consolidating governments is not the answer

Opinion: Columns

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By Bob Milstein

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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.

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Robert Milstein  

Posted: July 20th, 2018 3:27 PM

Brian, thank you for your reply. Is it your view that the police department should consider changes that are functional and structural in nature, and that those changes should be driven by a bottom up approach? I hope that makes sense. The officers on the streets doing the day to day work should have valuable input into the overall changes. Also, what roll do the various Unions play in this issue (aside from salary, benefit and pension issues). Is the Village, including the police hierarchy seeking Union input?

Robert Milstein  

Posted: July 20th, 2018 3:16 PM

@Jenna: I am not suggesting a "must" tax for "courtesy" to the citizen public employees. My point is consolidation is not necessary, it does not save tax dollars and it will likely result in degraded services. All employees in private and public service ought to be courteous to customers or citizens. As in any human interaction people are not perfect on either side of the equation. However, the citizen should be treated efficiently and with a smile. Our tax dollars should pay for the proper training as to how to treat citizens, how to handle upset people, etc. It seems to me, in my experience, and in the experience of some of my neighbors, that the Township is more service oriented than some departments in Village Hall. So a courtesy tax no...currently we appear to be spending a tax to be treated poorly. So it is the same tax we already pay...I just prefer a different outcome.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 19th, 2018 5:58 PM

Great pick up Jenna. Your observation is more than interesting, rather it gets to the root of the matter. Some of our public employees - our so called public servants - have forgotten that they work for us. They seem to think, on the contrary, that we work for them

Jenna Brown Russell  

Posted: July 19th, 2018 4:39 PM

Mr. Milstein, am I to infer from your comment below that, as a former trustee, we should not consider consolidation because the Village cannot deliver services with 'courtesy and a welcoming attitude'? I'm not disputing that VOP employee attitudesay often be subpar, but accepting that as fact and insisting the taxpayer must pay a 'courtesy premium' in our tax bills is an interesting argument to make.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 19th, 2018 3:06 PM

On their behalf, thank you for your support of them. This may be dated, however, the OPPD at one time ha an officer who was working on getting the OPPD Accredited. That meant that outsiders with some experience dictated the guidelines as to procedure for the department. Of course for a fee. If OPPD followed those guidelines, the OPPD would allowed to use the term Accredited Police Department. One of the issues was that the PD had to be in a stand alone building. This was long ago and I don't know if the rules are still in effect. To me this was a waste because we had upper management charged with the direction of the PD paying for and using outside guidelines to run the department. I might have this wrong but one of the guidelines to be accredited was a balanced healthy meals served to prisoners. Not TV dinners. In my opinion, retired upper management officers ran the procedure.

Robert Milstein from Oak Park   

Posted: July 19th, 2018 2:39 PM

@Brian....I also support in rank and file input in decisions in every department in government. Your point on accredited police department...what are they now? Explain please.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 9:32 PM

@ Robert Milstein : Yes, there is a need for space, but not at this cost. Also, a stand alone police building leads the way to an accredited police department, where outside paid consultants, read retired police chiefs, set standards for our or your police department, at yet another price. Our community, our police, our standards, with input from the rank and file, not just upper management.

Robert Milstein from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 8:54 PM

Yes, intangibles such as courtesy, attitude (try the Village Parking Dept a few times...crabby), welcoming attitudes...this matters. Citizen's pay for tangibles, I get it but there are intangible aspects in the delivery of services. As to the police station, Brian...other ideas are fine...mine is one ...but if you see a need, which you do for better use of space...great. My point though is we need a better police facility than we currently have.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 10:56 AM

"Convert the current village hall into a police station. Modernize the police facilities as they are outdated and to small. Stop keeping the police hidden in the basement of the village hall" The police department using the entire village hall as a police station would be a dreadful waste of space and one huge police station filled with dangerous empty space. Stated this before. Build an elevator and stairwell from inside the basement, the police department, to the Village Hall and move Upper Management up stairs to be closer to the powers at hand so upper management can be on hand to kiss the ring of power. Then with the absence of the west wing there would be enough working space for everyone. Most police officers do their work on the street and only use the station for paperwork. Asked before, the PD takes up half the basement,what is in the rest of the basement of the Village Hall? Can that space be worked. PDs are located in the basement to prevent escapes, suicides, arrestees jumping or pushed out of windows, and bombings. What do we do with the new overpriced school administration buildings. Roof the courtyard is a possibility to combine,however I see and hear that the present VH is underused, empty spaced. The village has space, unused at hand. Combining all agencys in a nice idea, for a fresh sheet of paper new community, not Oak Park.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 18th, 2018 12:22 AM

When the justification to keep the Township is a bunch of intangibles, there is no justification. Its what we call hot air and BS. But you are right, we should be asking for ELIMINATION not Consolidation.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 10:01 PM

Oh Nick. You're so smart but so naive. First off, It ain't about you! Likely you will wind up paying (to use your example) $4K more in state income taxes AND $1000 MORE (instead of $2000 more) - not less - in property taxes.You "rich" folks are NOT supposed to be better off anyhow, don't you understand that? How does that make OP more affordable, you ask? Oh Nick, you are so dense ... smart ... but dense. In the example above, I just showed you that you SAVED $1000 in property taxes. But more importantly the schools, the police, the FD, the state pensioners are now so much better off. And remember - as far as the schools go - it's always for the children. Don't forget that. What are we going to do with you Nick? You got to stop fooling around with that math stuff. It's unhealthy and obviously adding to your confusion. Just go with your "gut feelings", like everyone else does.

Nick A Binotti  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 7:47 PM

For those who think swapping a property tax reduction for a graduated income tax will result in a dollar-for-dollar swap for those in OP and RF, I encourage you to ask JB Pritzker that very question. Or I can answer it for you: most definitely no. Why? Because math: Only 30% of IL taxpayers make over $75,000/yr but account for over 75% of state income tax revenue. There are simply not enough earners to account for any such swap. So I ask this: If a graduated income tax results in me paying $4,000 more in state income taxes but $1,000 less in property taxes, how am I better off? How does that make Oak Park more affordable, township or no township?

Nick Polido  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 1:48 PM

This reader is thrilled that this author is a former trustee...

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: July 17th, 2018 1:07 PM

Left unsaid in all this advocacy for consolidated governance is the idea that there's wisdom in limiting the scope of the tasks for which elected officials are responsible. So municipal board primarily oversee police/fire and public works, school boards oversee our educational institutions, park board oversee the parks and recreation programs, and the township oversees social programs. Same with the library. It isn't always perfect, but I can all but guarantee that adding more oversight responsibilities to fewer people isn't the answer.

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