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Consolidate Oak Park taxing bodies? Advisory referendum seeks voter input

An advisory referendum question, on the Nov. 6 ballot, asks voters to consider the potential merger and consolidation of several Oak Park taxing bodies.

The advisory question, on the Nov. 6 ballot, asks: 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 a property tax reduction for the residents of Oak Park?

Because it is an advisory question, majority voter approval would not lead to immediate action.

The Oak Park Village Board of Trustees at a July meeting took steps to get the referendum question placed on the ballot. At the time, Oak Park Trustee Simone Boutet cast the lone dissenting vote. She said she stands by her position.

“I don’t want to take over the township and the other governmental bodies,” she said. “I don’t support it for a lot of reasons, one of which is that it was done in an aggressive manner toward our fellow governmental bodies, when we should be working together.”

Oak Park Trustee Deno Andrews said he voted to place the referendum on the ballot, but he wants his position on the matter to be made clear.

“I don’t support consolidating units of government against people’s will,” he said. “I support researching to see if there are substantial savings that could be had, if we were to consolidate.”

Andrews acknowledged that people have misconceptions about the referendum and said it’s important for voters to understand what the question is asking.

“No taxing bodies could consolidate without the boards’ approval and the State of Illinois’ approval,” he said. “It’s a big process.”

Neither trustee could pinpoint how the advisory referendum may impact the village and its services or if savings would be possible.

Boutet said she does not view the referendum as a way of fostering collaboration between Oak Park taxing bodies.

“It’s not asking that question,” she said. “It’s really a hostile [situation,] and that’s the thing that’s so offensive.”

Park District of Oak Park Executive Director Jan Arnold said the village did not engage the other taxing bodies prior to getting the referendum question put on the ballot.

“There wasn’t a two-way conversation,” she said. “It was a task force that they put together and a recommendation that they received.”

Oak Park Township Supervisor Clarmarie Keenan said “the challenge is [the question] asks it in a leading way that almost presumes there will be taxpayer cost savings, which is really contradictory to the notion of having to study if there will be cost savings.”

Keenan said the township has no problem with Oak Park taxing bodies working together to achieve efficiencies, if they exist.

“The township’s history shows that we are collaborative,” she said. “We do partner with our fellow taxing bodies in an effort to be efficient and to provide services.”

Oak Park Public Library Executive Director David Seleb said he is not certain what the referendum strives to do.

“It’s not clear to me what we mean by merger and what a merger would look like,” he said.

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