JOHN A. OSTENBURG
March 28, 2011 1:36PM
Updated: March 28, 2011 3:16PM
Officer sought: Park Forest Mayor (Village President)
Name: John A. Ostenburg
Address: 11 Bigelow Road, Park Forest, IL 60466
Date of birth: April 27, 1945
Facebook: John Ostenburg
Twitter handle: JohnOstenburg
Work: 708-283-5606 (Village of Park Forest office)
Education: Bachelor of Arts, major in English Literature, minor in Classical Studies (Latin and Greek), Loyola University, Chicago; graduate coursework in Education, St. Francis University, Joliet; graduate coursework in Journalism, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb; graduate coursework in English Literature, Governors State University, University Park
Occupation, employer: Retired July 1, 2010, from position as Chief of Staff, Chicago Teachers Union
Please list all sources of income: Pension, General Assembly Retirement System; Annuity Account, VALIC; Pension, Social Security Administration; Salary as Park Forest Mayor and Liquor Commissioner
Spouse, spouse’s employer: Jacqueline Ostenburg, retired
Children, age of children, children’s employer (if applicable): Michelle Dombach, 47, employed by Napa County (California) Courts; Carol Renee Costanza, 45, employed by Crate & Barrel, Chicago; Jonathon Ostenburg, 41, employed by Northern Illinois University, DeKalb
Please list any relatives, including in-laws, who are employed by a government agency at the federal, state or local levels. What are their job titles and with what agency are they employed?
Daughter, Michelle Dombach, Clerk, Napa County (California) Courts
Son-in-law, Thomas Costanza, Horticulturalist, Chicago Park District, Chicago
What other elected offices have you sought? What year?
1970 – Democratic Primary, candidate for State Representative for district covering Sangamon and Menard Counties (Unsuccessful)
1975 – Democratic candidate for New Lenox Township Clerk (Unsuccessful)
1983 – Candidate for Park Forest Village Trustee (Unsuccessful)
1985 – Candidate for Park Forest Village Trustee (Elected to two-year term)
1987 – Candidate for Park Forest Village Trustee (Elected to three-year term)
1988 – Democratic candidate for State Representative, 80th House District (Unsuccessful)
1990 – Democratic candidate for State Representative, 80th House District (Unsuccessful)
1992 – Democratic candidate for State Representative, 80th House District (Elected to two-year term)
1994 – Democratic candidate for State Representative, 80th House District (Unsuccessful)
1997 – Candidate for Park Forest Village Trustee (Elected to three-year term)
1999 – Candidate for Park Forest Mayor (Village President) (Elected to four-year term)
2003 – Candidate for Park Forest Mayor (Village President) (Elected to four-year term)
2005 – Democratic candidate for Bloom Township Clerk (Unsuccessful)
2007 – Candidate for Park Forest Mayor (Village President) (Elected to four-year term)
Have you ever been arrested or charged with a crime? If so, for what? What was the disposition?
In 2001, I was involved in a verbal altercation with former Park Forest Trustee William Patterson; when he began to bump me, I grabbed his shirt and moved him out of my space; he filed a charge of battery against me; based on testimony of eyewitnesses, I was found not guilty in Cook County Circuit Court.
Do you have any criminal convictions on your record? If so, for what? What was your sentence? No convictions.
Political (elected or significant appointed) experience: 7 years as Park Forest Village Trustee; 12 years as Park Forest Mayor (Village President); 2 years as Representative in the Illinois General Assembly; in addition, I have served as Vice-Chairperson of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport Commission (ALNAC) since its creation; I also serve as the Cook County At-Large member of the Executive Committee of the South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association (SSMMA); and I serve as a member of the Community & Economic Development Committee of the National League of Cities (NLC)
In your view, what are the two most important issues facing your constituents? How would you address those issues?
(1) The most important issue facing Park Forest residents is the property tax. Because of the current property tax system, a significant number of homeowners in Park Forest – especially those who have purchased homes at a time when property values were very high – pay a disproportionately high amount of property taxes. This is caused by several factors: (a) over the years, voters in School District 163 have passed numerous referenda that have increased the school tax rate, and school funding constitutes approximately 60 percent of the Park Forest tax bill; (b) for the five years before I became Mayor, the Village of Park Forest increased its tax levy by an average of 10 percent per year; over the past 12 years, that annual levy increase has been reduced to approximately 4 percent per year and only applies to roughly 30 percent of the tax bill, but it is significant nonetheless; (c) because of a limited amount of commerce in Park Forest, most of the property tax bill is borne by homeowners; (d) because they have a low re-sale value, cooperative housing units in Park Forest are assessed for a significantly lower amount of property taxes than are single-family homes; and (e) the large number of senior citizens in Park Forest, many of whom still reside in their original homes and receive senior exemptions on property that generally is assessed at a lower value than many other homes in the neighborhood, results in an uneven tax assessment even among single-family homes. Since becoming Mayor, I have taken several steps to address this problem: (a) as mentioned above, we have reduced the annual levy increases from a double-digit amount to an amount that is consistent with inflation and the mandatory pension-increases that the Illinois General Assembly requires; (b) the Village of Park Forest has been successful in obtaining approximately $27 million in grants and outside funding during my time as mayor; those funds are critical in being able to continue offering quality services to residents at a lower tax rate than otherwise would be required; (c) I personally intervened to obtain a low-interest loan from the Illinois Environment Protection Agency for funding of construction of a new water plant which IEPA required (previously IEPA had turned down the loan request), and that loan saved Park Forest taxpayers more than $4 million in interest payments; additionally, after agreeing to construct a new water plant to address the IEPA’s concerns, I was able to negotiate potential IEPA penalties and fines – estimated to be as much as $5 million – down to basic legal costs, thus saving general revenue funds that otherwise would have gone to satisfy those penalties; (d) I continue to be a vocal proponent of legislative changes in the way schools are funded as the principal means of reducing property taxes; (e) I continue to work with the Park Forest economic development staff to solicit new businesses for the community in order to distribute property taxes more evenly; certainly the construction of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport would be a major engine to drive such economic development for both Park Forest and its neighboring communities; (f) finally, I personally became involved in finding a solution to a problem that occurred a few years ago when – as a result of the unintended consequences of some state legislation – some of the housing cooperative corporations paid virtually no property taxes for one year; as a result of personal negotiations with the leadership of three of those corporations, sizeable contributions in lieu of taxes were received by the Village; meanwhile, the Village staff and I worked with the Cook County Assessor’s office to find a way to offset the legislation and thus avoid the problem re-occurring.
(2) The second significant problem facing Park Forest residents at present is the state of the community’s housing stock. As is the case with a number of our neighboring communities, homes that are in foreclosure or otherwise vacant are attractive nuisances for vandals, for thieves who strip the homes of construction materials, etc., and cause the perception of blight to cast negative images on a neighborhood; other homes contribute to the deterioration of a neighborhood because of criminal activities in which their residents engage. Under my leadership as Mayor, the Village of Park Forest has undertaken several steps to address this issue, and more steps are in the planning: (a) enactment of the Vacant & Abandoned Housing Ordinance gives the Village more jurisdictional control over these properties, including the power to inspect on an on-going basis; (b) the Crime-Free Housing Ordinance allows the Village to require landlords to evict tenants who have been charged with criminal activity; (c) collaboration with the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the Metropolitan Planning Council has resulted in Park Forest being selected as one of four south suburban communities to participate in the 2011 Homes for a Changing Region program that will help determine patterns for developing housing needs and potentially generate housing demand that will allow foreclosed homes to become viable in the marketplace; and (d) my involvement as a member of the Housing Committee of the South Suburban Mayors & Managers Association, on the Housing & Community Development Committee of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, and on the Community & Economic Development Committee of the National League of Cities provides me with a constant flow of information and techniques for dealing with problem housing.
Please explain something significant you would like to accomplish within the next two years if you re elected to the office to which you aspire.
The following are three major goals that I would like to accomplish during the next two years. (1) Finalize the establishment of the Abraham Lincoln National Airport. The presence of a private developer and the commitment that Governor Pat Quinn has given to this project in recent weeks combine to make the likelihood of the airport becoming a reality with construction underway sometime during the next two years. Governance remains an issue of concern, but efforts are underway to overcome that political obstacle. If an agreement and a commitment to build is reached within the coming year, the south suburban region will see economic growth immediately. (2) The Village’s current efforts to work with Richard L. Dent and his firm to develop ways that homes, businesses, and industry can control the usage of energy and eliminate waste will result in Park Forest being well positioned to attract new residential development and more commercial and industrial growth. Additionally, my efforts in collaborating with the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC) to build a coalition among education, government, and industry for training programs in building an educated workforce for implementing energy efficiency into light industrial endeavors will provide a natural draw for more businesses to locate in the south suburbs, and in Park Forest in particular. (3) I believe Park Forest can continue to attract the type of businesses that are consistent with the needs and desires of our residents. The recent decision by the South Suburban Food Cooperative to locate in Park Forest can set a tone that will attract other similar businesses. It is my hope that all three of these initiatives can come to fruition during the coming two years.
Please explain how you believe the office you’re seeking can help in creating local jobs.
As Mayor, I work with the Park Forest staff to attract as many new businesses to our community as possible. Each of the businesses that has come to Park Forest during my tenure – such as First Midwest Bank, CVS, Bumper to Bumper, Chatham Beauty Supply, Shrimp Max, Cricket Wireless, Hadady Corporation, Last Minute Printing & Copy Center, FieldCrest School of Performing Arts, etc. – hires local residents. However, the Richard Dent project and the Abraham Lincoln National Airport offer the greatest potential for the creation of more south suburban jobs. I will continue my efforts to make both of these endeavors come to reality.
Do you believe the current way Illinois pays for education is working? If so, why? If not, why not? What would you change?
I do not believe Illinois currently funds its public schools in the best manner possible. Dependence on the property tax for the preponderance of public school funding means that an extremely unlevel playing field exists for the students of our state, many of whom merely are the victims of geography. Approximately 60 percent of the Park Forest property tax bill goes to fund schools. Even with a high tax rate, the property tax fails to provide school funding that is comparable to that of wealthier suburbs because the assessed value of our homes is far less than what may be found in those communities. In addition, in Cook County businesses pay roughly twice as much for the same assessed property value as do residential property owners; in places such as Park Forest, where little business activity is present, the burden on homeowners becomes excessive when compared to locales where a high degree of business property is located. Finally, the property tax is regressive; it takes no consideration of the property owner’s level of disposable income, which is especially problematic for persons on fixed incomes. I support placing the preponderance of public school funding on the state income tax, which would be distributed evenly across the state, adjusted slightly for cost-of-living standards in the various regions. As long as the income tax provided sufficient funding for all students to receive a quality education, local areas still could be afforded the opportunity to pass referenda for a property tax component to cover extras for their specific school district. It is, however, important to note that making a change such as the one I recommend is not within the authority of a municipal government; the reform action must be taken by the state legislature. I remain committed – as I have been for more than 30 years – to lobbying our legislators to make such a change.
Would you make any changes to the budget of the governing unit to which you are seeking elected office? If so, what?
I believe the process currently in place in the Village of Park Forest allows for sensible and frugal budgeting. It is for that reason that the Village’s budgeting process has received recognition and honors from the Government Finance Officers Association for every year that I have served as Mayor. Development of the budget is a lengthy process, with input from staff, from citizens, and ultimately from the elected officials. Once the budget is adopted, the Village Board conducts financial updates and at mid-year makes a determination on whether any budget amendments are necessary due to either (1) costs being too high or revenues being too low, or (2) costs being lower than anticipated and revenues being greater than what had been projected. However, throughout this process, the Village maintains a three-four month reserve to handle any potential cash-flow problems that could result from either county or state delays in collecting and/or distributing tax revenue. Any surplus that is determined at the end of a fiscal year is used to bring down the tax levy in the succeeding year. The budget is predicated on clearly articulated goals that the Village Board has laid out approximately one year in advance of final approval of the budget. Effective budgeting has allowed the Village of Park Forest to maintain its important services to residents while also keeping a lid on run-away taxation.
Are there any other issues you want to bring to the public’s attention? If so, what?
(1) The Village of Park Forest provides the opportunity for its citizens to engage in volunteer participation in the governmental process by serving on any one of several boards and commissions. At present, approximately 100 residents serve in such posts. They make application for appointment by the Mayor, which subsequently is approved by a vote of the entire Board. I believe it’s important to remind citizens of this opportunity.
(2) I would hope that citizens would come to recognize that only 30 percent of their tax bills comes to the Village of Park Forest, and those monies then pay for around-the-clock police and fire protection, paramedic services, the Park Forest Health Department and its home-care services, parks and recreation programs, public works projects, building code enforcement, public information, and a number of other vital services. If the Village enacts a tax increase, such as the three percent increase approved for the current year, it applies ONLY to the Village portion of the bill; for example, if a homeowner’s tax bill is $8,000, the portion going to the Village is $2,400, and a three percent increase on that amount is approximately $72, or $6 per month. That increase covers inflation (consider the additional fuel expense to operate police cars, fire engines, ambulances, public works vehicles, etc.), plus whatever mandates that the state legislature may enact in any given year.
(3) Finally, it is important to recognize that the Village of Park Forest provides residents with some services that are not provided by other municipal governments. For example, few cities or towns the size of Park Forest (or even larger, for that matter) have health departments; many municipalities have separate park districts or fire protection districts, which collect taxes independent of the city or town. All things considered, I believe Park Forest citizens are well served for the services and amenities that they receive.