There is no place in the world that I would rather live than Oak Park. Oak Park’s business districts, housing stock, progressive mindset and diversity are unparalleled. These characteristics must be cultivated and the Village Board needs to create policy that ensures that Oak Park evolves in a way that is in keeping with Oak Park’s roots.
The collective levy increase amongst Oak Park taxing bodies in the past 15 years has been over 104%. Inflation during this time has been 43%. Exceeding the rate of inflation by over two and half times is unacceptable and unsustainable. While the Village of Oak Park is only about 15% of a tax bill, the Village can and should be a leader in promoting fiscal responsibility and finding ways to ensure that levy increases are not nearly as substantial in the years ahead. Some of the avenues for controlling the tax burden are below.
- Ensure that the increased tax base from new development goes towards easing the tax burden on taxpayers, rather than towards new sources of spending.
- Create new sources of revenue to offset rising expenses.
- Work with other taxing bodies in promoting greater fiscal responsibility.
- Sell off Village-owned property in business districts.
- Create and execute long term plans that provide permanent solutions and benefits for the community.
- Collaborate with neighboring Villages on cost efficiencies.
- Analyze Village spending and develop new strategies for reducing expenditures.
- Ensure that revenues exceed expenditures in Village budgeting.
- Employ a return on investment approach to decision making.
In the past four years, the pendulum of development in Oak Park has swung from one extreme to another. Nearly 800 residential units are being added to downtown Oak Park. Large incentives have been given to these developments and other new businesses. Development and new business are essential in broadening the tax base and increasing the affordability of Oak Park. If elected Trustee, I would like to promote development and new business throughout the entirety of our community without providing for so many variances and incentives. Some strategies that could be utilized are below.
- Promote development beyond downtown Oak Park.
- Identify potential development sites throughout the Village and create objectives for each site.
- Encourage developers to build within current zoning laws. If variances beyond our current zoning are given, require that developers have a greater commitment to sustainability, integration and architectural excellence.
- Convey Oak Park’s commitment to integration, sustainability and architecture and the need for all new developments to adhere to these standards, before negotiating development agreements.
- Recruit local developers who are stakeholders in the community.
- Reduce incentives to new development and businesses. Oak Park has seen many successes in recent years and should have more leverage in negotiations based on the value of Oak Park, rather than the value of incentives being offered.
- Keep inventory of existing commercial vacancies and work with those property owners to ensure property maintenance and to increase efforts to fill the vacant spaces.
Sometimes there is a disconnect between perception and reality. In Oak Park, the perception is oftentimes that Village government is not as transparent as it needs to be. Furthermore, residents commonly feel that their voices are not being heard in decision making. Village government needs to be aware that these perceptions exist and make concerted efforts to counteract these perceptions. Some ideas for accomplishing this are below.
- Empower citizen commissions to be greater contributors to Village policy.
- Encourage Oak Park residents to become more informed and involved in Village government.
- Ensure that bids and RFPs are an open and competitive process and that the results are available to the public.
- Strive to make nearly all discussion of issues in a public forum, rather than behind closed doors.
- Create a more collaborative, welcoming and creative environment in Village Hall.
There is no bigger issue for humanity than the care of our planet and taking bold steps to be better stewards of our environment. Environmental change starts locally and Oak Park needs to be a leader in environmental stewardship. Examples in which this can be better accomplished are below.
- Greater commitment to the goals outlined in the PlanIt Green Sustainability Plan.
- Continue to grow the Renewable Energy Fund so that the Village can invest in new energy sources for our Village.
- Work with other taxing bodies and municipalities on green policies and shared funding for new energy sources.
- Higher sustainability criteria for new developments.
- Develop suitable replacement for the sustainability manager position that was eliminated in 2015.
Diversity & Integration
Oak Park has been a national model for an integrated community for decades. One of the biggest aspects of our collective identity is our integration and our economic, generational and racial diversity. While we should be proud of our history, our Village should be proactive and deliberate in ensuring that integration and diversity exist throughout all aspects of Oak Park. These efforts can can be enhanced by adopting the following measures.
- Create a forum for stakeholders in our Village’s integration efforts to renew their commitment to integration and create strategies for enhancing our Village’s integration and diversity.
- Require that all new developments work with the Oak Park Regional Housing Center when renting their new buildings.
- Revitalize the Community Relations Department and Community Relations Commission.
- Encourage development that establishes affordable housing within the community.
- Work to create stronger partnerships with the Austin community.
- Promote business districts on the East side of the Village and on our border streets.
- Control the tax burden so that residents without children in the school system and lower income residents can afford to live in our great community.