Commentary

Everyone Suffers When Pols Collide


Gary Kopycinski

Commentary
By Gary Kopycinski

Earlier this evening, I was doing my (hopefully-regular-into-my-second-straight-week-again-finally) 30 minutes on the treadmill at Quality Classic Health and Fitness Center, DownTown Park Forest.

Yes, that was a commercial for Earl and Alia.

I was reading the report of the Illinois Municipal Assistance Program prepared by the Center for Governmental Studies. The title? Park Forest, Illinois, March 2011.

The Center took some time and studied Park Forest, Illinois. They crawled through our planning documents, our budget. They interviewed members of the Village Board, staff, and citizens. And, if you look at the list of citizens interviewed in the report, you will see that some of them have been the most ardent critics of Park Forest Village government.

I applaud those on staff who did the outreach to include those residents.

The result? The report takes an honest look at Park Forest, Illinois, outsiders looking in, much like Alexis de Tocqueville did when he wrote Democracy in America . And we came out looking pretty good.

Really.

Yes, there is room to grow.

Yes, property taxes are too high.

Yes, upwards of 60% of your property tax bill goes to the schools, and the Village Board can do nothing about that but continuously cry for reform of the Illinois tax code.

Anyone in Springfield listening?

I am only halfway through the report. I promised the representatives of the Center for Governmental Studies that I would take my time, carefully digest the report. And I seem to do that best while walking on a treadmill.

But the report made me proud to work with the people I work with on the Park Forest Village Board.

Say what you will about Mayor John Ostenburg, the man puts Park Forest first. He can literally sit for hours on end at meetings (I’ve witnessed this for years now at off-camera budget meetings), remain completely focused and on-topic, and, regretfully, perhaps, take a break only when everyone else in the room needs one.

Trustee Ken Kramer is a stickler for details, absolutely loves Park Forest and all Park Foresters. My colleague Bonita Dillard doesn’t say much, but, trust me, she reads and annotates agendas for every meeting we hold. I see this week after week. Mae Brandon listens scrupulously, carefully taking notes. Rob McCray diligently puts the good of Park Forest before all else, and Georgia O’Neill continues to impress me with her business background (yes, her answer to the "business question" at Sunday’s candidates forum left me impressed).

And here’s the thing: We don’t fight. We don’t argue over personalities. We set our egos aside when we sit in concert at a board meeting, on camera or off.

At this point, I could name state legislators. I could name representatives to congress.

I tell my students that I can see why some in office develop HUGE egos.

I will not name names, but, face it, even in Park Forest, it’s easy to think, when you see your name on so many lawn signs, that you somehow deserve all this praise.

But you don’t.

After the campaign, you have to get over yourself, and get to work, for the good of the people.

Why is it in Illinois that we don’t we have a state-wide system that taxes more equitably for schools? Is it, perhaps, that some state representatives, or some state senators, years ago fought over some other issue?

Here’s how it works, Illinois: Upwards of 60% of your property tax bill goes to the schools, and I can’t do anything about that, except write, lobby.

If your property tax bill in Park Forest was $8,000 last year, $4800 of that went to the various school districts. Look at your property tax bill.

That’s the truth.

That is horrible.

And here’s the rub.

If you and your significant other work to pull in $60,000 a year, and your next door neighbors pull in $120,000 a year, the assessor’s office is required, by law, to require both of you, based on the assessed values of your respective properties, to pay $4,000, or $8,000, or $10,000, or more, depending where you live in Park Forest. Or anywhere else in Illinois, really.

And 60% of that goes to the schools.

That’s a crime, and it has to change. Funding for schools is a responsibility of the state, for all our children, no matter where they live in Illinois. Every child has a right to a solid education. Funding schools based on one’s ability to pay, drawn from income taxes, is much more equitable, much more affordable, for all.

What’s holding things up, Springfield? Is Speaker Mike Madigan still holding a grudge from 20 years ago? Is John Cullerton holding out because some down-state senator spilled coffee on him in 1995?

So lucky to live and serve in Park Forest, where pols get along.

In Illinois, however, we’re still waiting.

The writer is a member of the Park Forest Village Board.


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