Like many village council issues in the past, the decision to impose fees for the use of the dog park at Circle and Lehmer has gone from a policy debate to a mudslinging opportunity.
In this case, the mudslinging is justified, as commissioners have every right to be peeved when they learn that they based their votes on misinformation. Whether the misinformation was intentional or the product of a miscommunication is impossible to know for sure.
The fact that commissioners seem convinced that the intent was malicious is just more evidence of the state of relationships among the council, where distrust has grown so strong that the worst case scenario is always assumed.
Putting these allegations aside, though, there is a legitimate issue at hand here which, though it presented itself through the dog park discussion, is likely to come up repeatedly for years to come.
The Village of Forest Park has always prided itself on its ability to keep living expenses down, and this has been one of its greatest assets over the years, helping to attract residents from Oak Park and other areas where taxes and service charges are far more burdensome.
As well as this has worked in the past, as Forest Park’s residential boom continues and the demand for village services increases the village will need to find some middle-ground. It is going to be rather difficult for Forest Park to attain its desired image as a destination point for the western suburbs while at the same time remaining the area’s residential bargain bin.
This does not mean that Forest Park should turn into another Oak Park ” it must maintain the qualities that have attracted so many Oak Parkers in the first place. But the fee structure approved by the council still seems exceedingly low, and depending on donations and fundraisers for the long term sustenance of the park does not seem like the best way to go.
We especially see no reason to charge non-residents just a few bucks more than Forest Parkers for use of the park when other villages are charging up to five times more for non-residents, or not allowing them at all. Oak Park residents can now come to Forest Park’s dog park for a third the price they’d need to pay for their own. Meanwhile, Forest Parkers can’t take their dogs to Oak Park’s dog park at all.
Though we understand Mayor Anthony Calderone’s disdain for our attacks on the Commission form of government, this is just another example of its shortcomings.
No elected official wants to be the guy who pushes to increase taxes or service fees. Qualified staff members who do not have to worry about reelection are able to conduct an objective assessment of the village’s finances and recommend a fair fee structure. In this case, the village administrator could have done just that, but due to the overly politicized nature of all local decision making, a direct product of our form of government, his input was once again ignored.