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Oak Park tax watch group searching for solutions

Unofficial community group meets to discuss rising tax burden

January 12th, 2018 4:47 PM

About 50 people turned out for a meeting at the Oak Park Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 11, to discuss the rising property tax burden in Oak Park. | Photo by Timothy Inklebarger

By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

There were no pitchforks and there were no torches – those aren't permitted in the library.

But at the meeting held by Oak Park residents to discuss rising property taxes the fear was palpable.

"It's to a point where I can't afford to live here anymore," one woman said at the beginning of the meeting.

"I'm here because I think the single biggest threat to diversity in Oak Park is the tax situation," said another woman.

One man noted since he moved to Oak Park about 10 years ago, his tax bill is up about 54 percent and approaching $15,000 a year. "I can afford to stay," he said. "The question is whether I want to stay. I don't know if I can leave because I'm not sure if I can sell my house."

The question of whether they could stay in Oak Park for the long-term was a recurring theme amongst the roughly 50 people who attended the meeting.

The forum was set up as a result of residents discussing the issue on a Facebook group established in October called Oak Park Property Tax Watch – the group has grown to 648 members.

The meeting also was attended by officials from the Oak Park Board of Trustees, the Oak Park Library Board and Oak Park Township and the District 200 School Board.

Oak Park Township Assessor Ali ElSaffar told the group that he was not surprised to see so many people voicing their concerns and joining the group because he's seeing the same thing at the township.

"This last year, in particular, I've heard a lot of people expressing frustration about their ability to remain in Oak Park, so I understand why the group is so popular," ElSaffar told the group.

Jim Peters, who joined the online discussion group, decided last month to hold the meeting at Oak Park Public Library, so residents could discuss the issue face to face.

He said the meeting was aimed at providing a "complementary element" to the online conversation and those taking place at the boards of various taxing bodies.

Peters, who has lived in the village for 42 years, said he took a close look at his retirement and expenses and figured he was going to pay about $7,000 over 10 years to live here as opposed to somewhere else like DuPage County.

"That was holding real well until about the last two years," he said. "That's why I'm here."

The hour-long meeting broke into two groups following the introductions, where residents discussed concerns and posed possible solutions to reducing the rising tax burden. Each group provided three key issues discussed in each group.

Resident Josh Vanderberg, who was chosen to share the key issues from his group, said his group discussed the tradeoffs that would have to take place if Oak Park decreased the rate of money flowing to the various taxing bodies.

"Are we going to impact the progressive values of Oak Park by kind of starving these organizations of the funds needed to do those things?" he asked.

Vanderberg said the group also pressed the importance of increasing knowledge amongst residents about rising taxation in the village. His group also considered whether the village could consolidate taxing bodies, such as combining the village with the Oak Park Township, a move made by Evanston in recent years.

Resident Kitty Conklin said her group discussed the need to "change the culture in Oak Park."

"We need to do things like take an approach to zero-based budgeting instead of figuring out what money are you going to get and how do I spend 100 percent of it," she said.

She said the village also should aim to reduce redundancy in services from various taxing bodies in the village.

"Overall, change the culture around taxation and the operating in isolation that the various governmental units do," she said. "We need an effective communication plan."

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com

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  • Kevin Peppard from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 17th, 2018 1:48 PM

    To the various critics of my questioning whether some Trustees violated the Open Meetings Act. First, I said they should consult the Village Attorney on how to do this in the future, and I am not pressing the matter; their intentions were probably noble.. Second, when it has been questioned what people did or did not say, that could have been resolved if the meeting had been recorded, which would have happened at an Open Meeting. Third, the fact that it was open to the public, but a meeting by a private group, does not matter, since it had not been announced by the Village that Trustees would be there and speaking on Board matters, and there was no recording. Fourth, I agree that Trustees can attend a parade together (as long as they do not discuss Village business). I was invited to an Ice Cream Social with OPRFHS Trustees, where it was just to learn about our families and interests, But that did involve governmental business, such as the possibility of merging taxing bodies. Trustee Taglia broached that subject as a possibility to CONSIDER, and Trustee Moroney mentioned that it had been done in Evanston,, and that the Parks had once been part of Village Government. That seems to be discussing governmental business without prior notice, and with President Abu-Taleb in the same group, was testing the limits. As to whether I asked Trustee Taglia about which bodies to merge, I know what I said. But then we can't validate that, since this meeting had no taping. I feel like Senator Dick Durbin vs, Trump.on whether the "S" word was used, and whether it was with "hole' or "house". There is a way to resolve this: Next time, have the Village announce it's an Open Meeting, have the Village Clerk take minutes and record it, but let another group moderate the meeting. I actually enjoyed the meeting, since the Board had to get off its high horse. Just do it right.

  • Bridgett Baron (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 16th, 2018 11:22 AM

    Kevin, I do not recall Taglia saying that. He might have said that to you as an aside? As I also do not recall you asking, "Which ones?" Consolidation was brought up, but my recollection was that the discussion was amongst the residents in that sub-group. When someone mentioned Evanston consolidating, someone looked to Moroney, who yes, did confirm, in a matter of fact way, because someone was asking him, that Evanston had done that. That is my recollection. Perhaps yes, in the future, Moroney, even when someone is looking right at him to ask a simple yes-no factual question, he can say that, due to the perception of violating the Open Meetings Act, since Kevin Peppard is standing right there, looking for board members to mess up, giving yet another reason why board members are leery of interacting with the public (other than in their own Board room), Moroney will refrain from answering.//Bruce and Tom, to Kevin's point, if Board issues are discussed with more than two on a Board present, 48-hr notice with an agenda is necessary, as it would be viewed as an official Board meeting. And as I said, I do not believe Board issues were being discussed, so I do not think it was an official meeting. Therefore no 48-hr notice with an agenda is necessary. And no Open Meeting Act was violated.

  • Tom MacMillan from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 16th, 2018 9:53 AM

    The meeting was open to anyone who wanted to attend. The room had no walls, it was in the middle of the public library.

  • Nick Polido (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 15th, 2018 6:27 PM

    Do parades count when a quorum is present? Even the PGA a known stickler for rules have stopped entertaining fans calling in potential infractions.

  • Bruce Kline (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 15th, 2018 6:12 PM

    Kevin: You might be correct. I would hope however, that there would be some mechanism to permit our representatives to attend meetings "as involved private citizens" - in good faith - related to issues vital to the public good when those meetings are held in "open" public venues. And that last point is where your analogy (to having a meeting in your house during the super bowl) breaks down. Your house is a private "closed" venue. Who is invited (or not), what is said (or not), what is recorded - if at all - is purely under your control. The meeting in question was held in a public space open to all and publicly reported.

  • Kevin Peppard from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 15th, 2018 3:49 PM

    I won't be a stickler on this, but it appears that the Village Trustees who attended this may have violated the Open Meetings Act. They may have been well-intentioned,, but any more than two of them are not supposed to be discussing Board business other than at a previously announced Board meeting (at least 48 hours in advance, and where minutes are being taken by the Village Clerk). They went beyond just listening -- Taglia suggested consolidating governmental bodies, and I asked him which ones. He suggested the Township with the Village, and Maroney followed up that Evanston had done that, and that the Parks had once been part of the Village. Abu-Taleb was sitting in the same group. That sounds like discussion of Village government business to me. Andrews was in another group,, and just appeared to be listening (I went over and talked to him later). They should really get some advice from the Village attorney about how to approach these situations. I appreciate their interest in talking with citizens, but they need some directions on how to stay within the lines. Otherwise, I'll invite them to my house for the Superbowl, and we can handle the next year's Village business without a public airing.

  • Robert Milstein from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 15th, 2018 4:34 AM

    Dear Mr Kline: Prepare for a bumpy road. In my opinion defeating Berrios and pushing for property tax reform will have greater impact on everyone's taxes than any other efforts. I wish the group success. G

  • Robert Milstein from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 15th, 2018 4:25 AM

    Mr Peters. If any taxes are to be reduced "local action" by itself will have minimal impact. I appreciate the point that a group must focus itself to accomplish its goals, but our high property taxes are not a result of local forces alone. I wish you all success, but the current approach of the local government is to build our way out of high taxes. Why not ask the local governments to let members of your group serve as a citizen's advisory body that can fully review ways to cut costs and reduce taxes? Just a thought.

  • Valerie E. Jones (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 7:07 PM

    I am a lifetime resident.Born at West Suburban and considering where I should move due to tax increases. I studied design and architecture at the University of Illinois and every class I took included information about Frank Lloyd Wright. I have spent $1000.'s of dollars attending weddings of friends and their children in surrounding communities and Chicago. Where am I going with this? PLEASE build a hotel with parking and a banquet hall for weddings, conventions and JOBS in our community. This would be good for the whole community. We haven't had a banquet hall since the Mar Lac house closed down. We have 60 houses of worship, and architecture known WORLDWIDE but not one place to house a large out of town presence. PLEASE CONSIDER THIS!

  • Sandra Wilcoxon from Aurora (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 6:42 PM

    After 25 years, high taxes were one of the reasons we left...we needed more room for Mom to live with us, and it was impossible to move within Oak Park affordably. Now we have a bigger house and lower taxes. One of Oak Park's problems is that it is land-locked?"no room for expansion, and it seems that increasing density with more apartments and condos is not alleviating taxes, just adds to overcrowded roads and more parking problems.

  • Paul Cagnina (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 5:20 PM

    Tom Gull - from Harlem to Ridgeland on Madison.

  • Nick Polido (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 12:42 PM

    Mena: your post implies that since 1995 your taxes have gone up only 10%. This is extraordinary unless you have a had senior freeze for many years. The idea that high taxes equals higher property values is again old rhetoric along with by trying to be a more fiscally responsible ( as this group promotes ) leads to poor services and diminished home values. Kudos to this newly formed group!

  • Tom MacMillan from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 10:35 AM

    As soon as Senator Harmon and the state funds local schools, we will get the average sort of crummy quality that no one in Oak Park wants. Our income taxes will go up, and the quality of our schools will go down. That is not the solution. The people at the "watch group" were not talking about slashing school quality, what I heard was a lot of talk about no more big expensive fancy projects. And great efficiency/less waste.

  • James Peters from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 14th, 2018 8:51 AM

    Robert Milstein. This group is LOCAL. Efforts to change the state tax system will only divert energy from what we can actually address. It is Circle of Concern vs. Circle of Influence. (A key concept in the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.) Active local groups can influence local taxation: Remember the abatement of the D200 levy increase in 2012-2013? Keep the actions targeted at local issues.

  • Bruce Kline (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 9:19 PM

    Robert: Realistically the residents of Oak Park can only directly control one of your four conditions that you posit are necessary to lower property taxes (and to be clear many of us just want to stabilize taxes and not necessarily lower them - bend the curve so to speak).That one, would be the TIF giveaways. I agree. They are a total scam and a detriment to our community. They're "killing" us and need to be ended now. As far as funding schools via property taxes, and ending such a mechanism of school funding, I doubt very much that many would support the equivalent of California's Prop #13 that did just that; and in the process turned the most outstanding public school system in the country to dog doo. I still believe that we can bend the curve by not automatically voting YES on all and every school referenda that comes down the pike and readjust and thin the enormous administrative over load at both D97 and D200. I also believe that teacher contracts should be more in keeping with prevailing economic realities. Presently they are not. On the other hand, If your speculations are, in fact true, then we are indeed in for a bumpy ride - since in my opinion three out of four of what you propose "ain't gonna happen."

  • Robert Milstein from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 8:14 PM

    The joke is on all of us who believe we will build our way out of the high taxes. Taxes do not go down as we build more high rises...they go up. Taxes cannot go down so long as school funding is based on property taxes. Taxes cannot go down while developers receive huge subsidies they do not need. Appeal your property tax and if you are lucky you receive a small reduction but if you are a developer you are going to get a whopping tax reduction. For taxes to go down: 1- reform the tax system in the state to remove property taxes as the basis of school funding; 2- End the TIF give aways; account for the money ; 3- Use the income tax system to fund schools; 4- Defeat Berrios and install a reformer that will stop the current system that favors developers over homeowners. The community meetings are great but the state is the controlling entity and the county is close behind. Taxes are not going down under this system and change begins in Springfield. Ask Senator Harmon to visit at the next meeting and ask him to support legislation to stop property taxes as the main source of funding our school systems.

  • RoseMary Gange (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 4:07 PM

    Car dealerships left because the lots they had were too small and could not be expanded. They moved west to get the acreage.

  • Bridgett Baron (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 3:49 PM

    I was impressed with the amount of institutional knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom at the gathering. I appreciated not only the current elected officials in attendance, but also those who have served in the past. Including citizens who have served on various committees in the community in the last few decades. I also appreciated the variety of ages, socio-economic levels, and length of time living in Oak Park. I look forward to more discussions (and actions) to move Oak Park forward, and live up to its reputation as a great place to live.

  • Jim Coughlin (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 2:06 PM

    It's difficult to come up with exact numbers regarding TIF finances, Tom Gull. All of the Oak Park TIF districts keep their own separate and secret set of books and there's never been any forensic accounting study conducted. You many recall it took a court order to permit one local taxing body to get a look at the TIF books. And taxpayers were on the hook for the legal expenses of both the Village and District 200. The shady shenanigans of TIFs have long been subject of a call for openness and reform but, to date, there's been no effort by those who could make changes to do so.

  • Mena Boulanger from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 10:55 AM

    I did a quick comparison of my property Tax Rate in 1995 compared to 2016. Rate is the tax amount (before any exemptions) as a percentage of the Equalized Assessed Valuation. Since 1995, the tax rate on my home on North Elmwood has gone up by only 10%. It's still a big bill, but with the payback coming when I sell. I expect that seriously lowering taxes will also lower public facility and service quality and, thus, home value. The dilemma of a successful community with many wonderful assets, but without a significant commercial sector, such as Oak Brook.

  • Tom MacMillan from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 10:33 AM

    Madison Street used to be filled with businesses. There were car dealerships for example. My understanding is that they all left because the taxes were too high.

  • Tom Gull from Oak Park (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 7:15 AM

    Paul, can you identify the land where you think the office buildings should be built? Has the OPEDC identified lack of office space as a concern? Jim, where are you getting the "hundreds of millions" figure from? Over what time period?

  • Jim Coughlin (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 13th, 2018 12:18 AM

    Oak Park's TIFs need to be part of the discussion. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been diverted to fund boondoggle projects, pipe dreams and foolish folly. There's scant oversight and zero accountability on how the money is collected and spent. Residents are even prohibited from examining the books and public officials ignore calls for transparency and reform. Have TIFs been a boon or bust for Oak Park? It's a question that remains unanswered.

  • Paul Cagnina (Facebook Verified)

    Posted: January 12th, 2018 6:02 PM

    I think the property tax increase has a simple solution. Oak Park needs to solicit companies or corporations to move to Oak Park. Companies will buy the land and build the Office space to house their employees. The village administration needs to think of solutions that will solve the tax burden problems for homeowners. The village increases the parking fee to collect more money. All this does is piss people off, with small benefits. I believe we need leaders that will keep their eye on the prize, "THINK BIG" and solve problems. Madison Street is probably the last chance to introduce Office space of the magnitude that I envision. This property gets taxed at 2 1/2%. You do the math. If you get one company to create office space in Oak Park other companies will "BEG" for space. Oak Park doesn't need to spend money on consultants, because they are "FREE". There are huge benefits To the Office space strategy. More than meets the eye. Everything is in the best interest of the "DOOPERS". The village will be "FLUSH WITH CASH". LOWERING" the tax base for homeowners.. You know, like "OAK BROOK". The tax burden problem is keeping home prices from reaching there potential and creating "LESS" diversification. Oak Park needs Madison St. to become filled with "MID-SIZED COMPANIES". NOT more poorly made housing, no Taco Bell's and Raising parking meter fees "AIN'T" working. Oak Park "NEEDS" Office space or the homeowners will get screwed year after year.

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