Mayor Announces Campaign to Lobby for Increased School Funding

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Trustee Brandon, Mayor Ostenburg, Trustees O'Neill and Kopycinski after Swearing-In Ceremonies Monday night. (Photo: Ross Brazzale)

Goal is Reduction in Property Taxes 

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— Park Forest Mayor John A. Ostenburg laid out plans Monday for the Village of Park Forest to engage in a comprehensive, Village-wide campaign to lobby for a change in the way schools are funded in Illinois and for property tax reform.

The announcement was made as part of his comments upon being sworn in for a third four-year term as Park Forest mayor. Also sworn in for four-year terms were Trustees Mae Brandon, Gary Kopycinski, and Georgia O’Neill.

Mayor Ostenburg said proposals presently are before the Illinois General Assembly that would boost funding for schools by increasing the state income tax and the state sales tax. Correspondingly, he said, the measures would reduce local property taxes, more than 60 percent of which presently go to the support of schools.

“One of our local school districts has a tax rate that is among the highest in the state,” he said. “If we are ever to see meaningful property tax relief in Park Forest and elsewhere in the south suburbs, we must change the way schools are funded in Illinois.”

The campaign will include postcard and letter writing to legislators, and telephone calls, e-mail messages, and lobbying at lawmakers’ district and Springfield legislative offices.

“We have between now and the end of May to help make the most significant change in Illinois taxation to have occurred in years,” Mayor Ostenburg said. “We must do our part to bring about this important change.”

Mayor Ostenburg pointed to the divisiveness that recently occurred in the Village of Park Forest as a result of property taxes becoming a major issue in the mayoral and trustee campaigns. He said members of the community were pointing the finger at one another and saying “It’s your fault!” and “No, it’s your fault!” The real fault, he said, is the antiquated system in Illinois that relies so heavily on property taxes to fund schools and municipal services.

“Our school funding system was established at a time when each municipality had its own thriving center of commerce,” he explained. “Today, commercial activity follows traffic patterns, which means that some communities have a lot while others have very little. Without commercial enterprises contributing to the tax base, the burden falls entirely on homeowners,” he said.

“Reliance on the state income tax is a much more equitable system,” he continued, “because it is based on every individual’s ability to pay, rather than on the piece of property he or she may own.”

Mayor Ostenburg said each of the Park Forest Village Trustees will undertake specific assignments to make sure the campaign is successful. Each Trustee is serving as a liaison to a specific community group in an effort to engage their full participation in the campaign.

“On Thursday of this past week, the Village Manager and I met with representatives of four of the five housing cooperatives in Park Forest, and each has pledged its full support for this campaign,” he said. “The co-ops have a great reputation for mobilization and we are hopeful they will provide hundreds of direct contacts with our legislators to urge action now on this important issue.”

He said other community groups also are being contacted and asked for their support in the mobilization effort. The other groups include local clergy, the business and real estate community, members of the Village’s volunteer boards and commissions, and community organizations such as Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, FOCUS, AARP, and others.

“Our goal is to make sure our legislators and the governor hear from no fewer than 1,000 residents of Park Forest before May 31,” Mayor Ostenburg said. “We want them to know that there is one entire community in the south suburbs where the residents vote and know how to be active in government affairs, and that we want to be heard on this important issue.”

More details regarding the campaign will be posted on the Village of Park Forest website, which is located at www.villageofparkforest.com.