League of Women Voters forum March 23 OP Library: John Hedges vs. Anan Abu-Taleb

Re: structural deficits

Abu-Taleb: Village expenses exceeded revenue seven of last 11 years. General and enterprise funds — environmental services, parking, sewer, water — are short $94 million. Answers about this are to be sought from the board. Wait too long before fixing this, you risk acting in panic later on.

Hedges: Not structural. Finances are in “very good condition.” Ill. Municipal Retirement Fund (IMRF), a non-state fund, is fully funded. Police and fire funds, 59% — comparable to other such (state-based) funds in Illinois (a state in deep financial trouble). OP has to 2045, the state tells us. (Before funds run out of money, presumably.) Debt situation — also similar to communities our size among inner suburbs. (As goes Cook County, also in deep trouble, so goes OP?)

Re: Two most important issues

Hedges: Economic development, Eisenhower x-way expansion another. As for the latter, the Ill. Dept. of Transportation (IDOT) is hard to work with. They see only building highways, want a Texas u-turn, from Austin to Central (gasp from audience). We are responsible for what happens beyond our borders. (Hence desire to extend public rail transit for sake of blue-collar communities to the west, presumably.)

Abu-Taleb: All is not OK with finances, for starters. The community is not engaged, the tax burden is an economic barrier. Taxers should be responsive. We want a culture that honors our past but is not a slave to it. Pursuing development, we need a business mind on the board.

Re: Being business friendly

Abu-Taleb: That’s my area. I say “I,” knowing I am but one voice. I want to work with others. Oak Park is a difficult place for a developer. Bottlenecks abound. We need better marketing: not “step out of line” and come to OP, but “we’d love you in OP.” Another issue: customer service does not match the taxes we pay. (We don’t get our money’s worth.)

Hedges: I welcome the new Dept. of Community And Economic Development, which will make things easier for the developer. Op’s is a “fairly long and rigorous process.” It’s that way so that “we get what we want.” Abu-Taleb would give developers too much (leeway). He would auction our development properties to the low bidder. (Denied below, not recalled by this listener.)

Re: Parking

Hedges: Downtown Oak Park parking is in good shape. As for restrictions, every requirement has a constituency. We do that — we satisfy constituencies. In this (election-time) discussion, it’s been all economic development. There is more than that to village government.

Abu-Taleb: I asked the director of parking, what keeps you awake at night? She said “nothing.” She sleeps, we worry. Idea of mine: do away with fines as a revenue source. Answering Hedges: As for auctioning property, I never said lowest bidder. I want to sell as many as possible. Answering again: I make no apology for my economic development emphasis.

Re: security

Abu-Taleb: Safety is the #1 issue. Police here do a great job. The Fire Dept. too, for whom he wants GPS technology which would enable them to find each other in smoke-filled building and other tight spots. Offered as experience in prizing safety: In Gaza under martial law we lived under the gun. I was protected by my (unarmed) father from defenders and occupier, coming and going; he stood up to them.

Hedges: Our police have the second-fastest response time for a town our size in Illinois. (Among the best in the country, says the village web site.) Crime rate is half that of 30 years ago. We live next to the West Side — “a little bit differently than in Western Illinois corn fields” — and face challenges that arise from that.

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