Park Forest Trustee Elections: Don’t be Fooled by Promises that Can’t Be Kept

The Park Forest Village Board Room
Who sits in these seats? You decide. (ENEWSPF)

Is the Village planning to tear down the co-ops? Can Park Forest simultaneously cut taxes and deliver needed services to residents?

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)—March 17, 2013. On April 9th, Park Forest residents will have the opportunity to elect three Trustees to the Village Board. As is the case in all elections, there is a lot of campaigning going on around town. Recently, candidate Jerome Brown knocked on my door to tell me about what he intends to do if elected. His campaign promises included:

  • Cutting taxes;
  • Reducing the water bills;
  • Reducing crime; and
  • “Saving” the Cooperative housing areas from the Village’s alleged intent to “tear them down.”

While these “promises” sound really good, let’s take a minute to look seriously at what Mr. Brown, and others on the campaign trail, are proposing.

Cutting Taxes

Anyone who lives in Park Forest knows that the taxes are high. However those of us like myself who have lived in Park Forest for many decades know the basic reason why our taxes are so high is due to the fact that we reside in a community where we have FIVE school districts to support village-wide. As a result, the majority of the taxes collected in Park Forest are going to support the schools. The remainder of the tax levy pays for the other services that are provided by the Village – things like Police and Fire protection; trash and snow removal; and the many other services provided through the Village.

Since we all agree that it’s imperative that we educate our children, and the amount of taxes paid to the schools is set by school districts, NOT the Village of Park Forest, then the only realistic way to cut taxes is to reduce services. Since we’ve already reduced the number of staff that work for the Village, do we now lay-off police, firemen or paramedics? Cut down on the number of trash pick-ups? Only remove snow when we have snowfalls of 6 inches or more?

It is just not reasonable to expect that taxes can be cut without reducing services.

Reducing Water Bills

Like many in Park Forest, I am part of the “47%” – i.e., my primary income is derived from Social Security. This year, my Social Security went up $48.00 per year, while my Medicare and prescription medication deductible, and Cooperative assessment, collectively increased by approximately $600.00 per year. Because I am not 65 years old, I am not entitled to the Senior Tax exemption, so I now need to find $552 to make up this deficit and also cover the usual increases in my gas, electricity and water bill. So, a promise to reduce my water bill to make up for this deficit sounds appealing. But is it realistic?

During his unsuccessful bid to become Park Forest’s Mayor, Jerome Brown made a big point of insinuating that Park Forest’s water was “not safe.” Even though at the time he made these claims, Park Forest’s water had been named the best in Illinois, he insisted that because water in Park Forest looked brown in color at times, it proved that he was right. He even brought a bottle of “brown water” to a public forum and dared people to drink it.

As it was explained at that time, and numerous times thereafter, the “brown” color in the water is a result of sediment in the water after the waterlines are flushed or there is a water main break – the primary reason for this problem. And why are the water mains breaking? Because the Park Forest water infrastructure is more than 70 miles long and 50 years old and needs to be replaced. Currently, water main replacement costs an estimated $1 million per mile, an incredible multi-million dollar project. Without replacing the infrastructure, all we are doing is essentially patching the problem – not fixing it.

Have you ever found yourself on a weekend with guests coming over and you open the cabinet below your kitchen sink to find the water pipe leaking? Most of us will get out the old duct tape and try to patch the problem temporarily. But even if your patch fixes the problem for now, over time, the patch will weaken and the problem will get worse and before you know it, you have a flood in the kitchen and a plumbing bill that is significantly higher than if you would have addressed the problem sooner.

That’s the situation we have here in Park Forest with our water main system. Yes, we can continue to patch the problem – clearly the cheaper way to fix it for now. But as we’ve seen, the patches are not holding and the instances of water main breaks in Park Forest are now an almost a daily problem.

So do we reduce the water bills – which are not only paying for water, but for replacing the infrastructure, or just keep doing the same thing we are? Realistically, you can’t have it both ways. And let’s also be realistic that this is a not a problem unique to Park Forest. Chicago and other aging cities are facing the same problems with their water main infrastructures so this is one problem you can’t just move away from.

Reducing Crime

If you read the weekly Park Forest Police Blotter Report in eNews Park Forest, there is no denying that crime is a concern in Park Forest. Just last week, my 63 year old neighbor was mugged and beaten by a group of teens less than 100 yards from our home. My neighbors lament that if only there was something to keep the young folks in town occupied more productively, there wouldn’t be so much crime. There’s no doubt about it that something needs to be done. Jerome Brown contends that building a Community Center will help and he’s probably right.

But where is the money going to come from to pay for this endeavor and the on-going costs associated with such a project like staff salaries, electricity, heat, water? Keep in mind that Mr. Brown wants to reduce taxes so clearly there will be no tax revenue available for such a project. Yes, we need to continue to try and attract new businesses to the community to add additional tax revenue. But this doesn’t happen overnight. And as previously discussed, taxes can only be reduced if services are decreased. We should be looking for ways to hire additional Police and that simply can’t happen if money is not available to pay their salaries.

Saving the Cooperative housing areas from the Village’s alleged intent to tear them down

I have lived in the Area E Cooperative for more than 35 years. I served on its Board for more than 10 years. So I guess I can be considered an ‘expert’ on the Cooperatives. The Cooperatives are not-for-profit corporations collectively owned by their shareholders that reside in its townhouse units. They are all independently owned and operated. The Village has no more control over the housing Cooperatives than it does the single family homes. As long as the property is maintained, we pay our taxes, and comply with applicable Village laws and ordinances; the Village has NO involvement in the day-to-day activities of the Cooperatives.

I serve on several Village Boards and Commissions and have NEVER heard any discussion about some “master plan” to tear down the Cooperatives. Clearly as someone who has a vested interest in the Cooperatives, hearing that I could lose the roof over my head would cause me great concern.

Since I’ve lived in Area E, we have replaced our plumbing pipes, electrical wiring, water mains – including parts of the main that the Village should have paid for but we chose to pay for it ourselves, repaired miles of sidewalk, replaced roofs, furnaces and air conditioners. We’ve improved our units by building new back porches to the tune of about $8,000.00 per unit.

In other words, the Area E Cooperative Shareholders, as is the case with the other Cooperative areas, have invested many millions of dollars in these properties over the years.

At a time when the Village needs every dollar of tax revenue it can collect, it makes absolutely no sense to even believe that the Village of Park Forest would begin to entertain the idea that these properties be torn down – properties that in many cases have been better maintained and improved than many of the apartments or single family homes in Park Forest. So what exactly do the Cooperatives need to be “saved” from?

While Mr. Brown’s campaign promises look good on the surface, the reality is that they simply cannot be delivered on. You can’t reduce revenue and increase spending. It doesn’t work with our personal finances and it certainly can’t work for the Village of Park Forest.

So when you cast your vote on April 9th, don’t be fooled in to voting for someone who can’t deliver on their promises. We need realistic solutions to move Park Forest forward – not a lot empty rhetoric and scare tactics made simply to win your vote.