Marino presents home rule idea to Homewood board

Homewood officials Tuesday unveiled a plan to provide a revenue boost to local schools, parks and the library and cut through some red tape by becoming a home rule community. Home rule status in the village requires approval by local voters in a special referendum.
 
Village Manager Jim Marino made a presentation on home rule to the village board at its Oct. 10 meeting.
 
“It’s gotten to the point where there seems to be consensus amongst all of us, staff and my counterparts (at other local taxing bodies), that we need to have a conversation with the community about some of these issues and what we might be able to do to address them,” Marino said. 
 
Home rule essentially allows a municipality more control of its own laws, rather than accepting limitations from laws made in Springfield. The Illinois Constitution phrases it like this: 
 
“A home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.”
 
According to the 1970 Constitution, any municipality with a population greater than 25,000 is a home rule community. Smaller towns need to pass a local referendum to establish home rule. Bills were drafted in both the Illinois Senate and House earlier this year that would extend home rule to all communities with more than 5,000 residents. 

Neither advanced to a vote. 
 
Homewood’s population at the 2010 census was 19,323. 
 
The village last raised the home rule question in the March 2004 primary election. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the measure, with just under 69 percent (3,708 to 1,667) voting against it. Flossmoor voted down a home rule referendum the same year by an almost identical margin: 1,944 (68 percent) to 881.
 
“A lot has changed (since 2004). We’re in a completely different place in our state. Our state’s basically a disaster,” Trustee Barbara Dawkins said. “I trust local government much more than I trust anyone in Springfield.” 
 
Marino said the village plans to hold a community meeting during the first week of November to address residents’ concerns. The goal is to have a referendum on the March 20, 2018, ballot. 
 
Proponents say home rule enables communities to find local solutions to local problems. A village has limited ability to generate needed revenue or issue bonds. 

The Better Government Association reported in 2016 that many municipalities were seeking home rule in order to ensure they could pay for things like public works projects, residential services and everyday operating expenses in the shadow of the state’s budget issues. 
 
“A home rule community can take necessary actions unless the state specifically says they cannot. Home rule communities have a lot more tools on how to generate revenue, how to deal with issues they have with their community,” Marino said. “Any time we have an idea or something we think we may want to deal with or how we may want to address a problem, before we can talk about it or take any initiative we have to talk to the village attorney and he has to go through the state statute and find a specific authority to allow us to do that.”
 
Marino said the local education system and park district are more limited than the village in terms of how they can generate revenue. Each is primarily dependent on property tax levies. 

They also rely, to various degrees, on state funding, and with the state's finances in poor condition in recent years, local agencies are vulnerable to budget cuts.

He said if the village had home rule status, it could do more to help those agencies financially. He proposed the village could institute a 0.25 percent municipal sales tax if it were granted home rule. 

The village projects the sales tax hike would generate $1,081,283. Homewood would keep none of that money, Mayor Richard Hofeld said. It would be distributed between the library, park district and school districts 153, 161 and 233 in a formula to be determined, he said. 

That would bring the total sales tax paid by consumers to 9.25 percent, which Marino said would still be the lowest of 30 area municipalities with a home rule sales tax. 
 
Home rule status would also allow Homewood to hire laterally from other police and fire departments, implement rental property inspections and crime-free housing programs, and share revenue with the other taxing districts.
 
Police Chief Bill Alcott said under current restrictions, a new Homewood police officer won’t actually be on the street until eight months after he or she is hired because of academy and field training requirements. The department isn’t allowed to hired laterally from other departments without home rule.

Homewood police can also lose police officers the department has paid to be trained when they’re hired by home rule communities. Last week, an officer gave his two week notice after working in Homewood for only a year, Alcott said. The department is currently forced to hire the deputy chief from within, as well.
 
If residents approve the referendum, Homewood could hire officers who are already certified and more experienced. 
 
Fire Chief Bob Grabowski said the situation is similar with the fire department, where a new hire needs six months at the fire academy and two years of paramedic training. New hires are permitted to respond to fire calls after six months, but Grabowski said 65 percent of calls are medical.  

In addition to more revenue options and public safety hiring flexibility, another aspect of home rule village officials touted is the addition authority the village would have for enforcing property maintenance standards, especially for rental properties.

Marino said home rule could also help with property values in Homewood by giving the village more tools in code enforcement.

Grabowski, who’s also in charge of the building department, said about 25 percent of single-family rentals in Homewood are cited for violations versus only five percent of owner-occupied homes. 

“We can only cite violations that we see from the street (without home rule), so we’re not able to get inside to do rental inspections even though there’s some issues,” Grabowski said. “It’s a battle. It’s something that, as I said, we’d probably do more if we had the ability to do more.” 

Many landlords, including some absentees who Grabowski said live as far away as California, don’t have a vested interest in the community. Home rule would allow the village additional tools to force them to maintain their properties. 

“Most of the houses in the community are maintained well and everybody takes pride in that,” Marino said. “We feel that all residents should take care of their property well, including rental properties.” 

Home rule opponents often suggest that, when granted the power, a municipality can require a point-of-sale inspection — with a fee — to be done when a home is sold. 

Marino said Homewood already has the power to do that and doesn’t. A real estate transfer tax is no longer a requirement for home rule, either, Marino said. It would require a separate referendum.

“We have to think of ways that we can make sure that we are able to maintain our great community. We do lip service to loving our community but we do have to, at some point, put our money where our mouths are,” Dawkins said. “This is somewhat about revenue but it isn’t all about revenue. It’s really about empowering ourselves to do for ourselves.”

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