Homewood officials this week distributed an informational packet in an attempt to address the concerns some residents have voiced about home rule.
The village is exploring the possibility of placing a home rule referendum on the March 20, 2018, consolidated election ballot.
A home rule municipality has more direct control of its own laws and regulations.
Broadly, the Illinois Constitution gives home rule governments the power “to license, to tax, and to incur debt.”
Any city with a population of 25,000 or more is a home rule community. Smaller towns need to pass a local referendum. Homewood’s population is more than 19,000.
Critics believe home rule would allow the village government to unnecessarily raise taxes and create excessive debt.
At a Nov. 9 informational meeting, Village Manager Jim Marino told residents the board would explore ways to limit its power should a home rule referendum pass. A packet with information on other communities with limiting ordinances that have been put in place was distributed to the board and to residents at the Nov. 14 village board meeting.
Ordinances limiting the power of the board if a home rule referendum passes are expected to be up for a vote before then.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Marino broke the possible limitations into four categories. The first category dealt with communities that curbed the ability to increase property taxes. Others established a gasoline tax but included language that limited that tax or established sunset provisions.
Woodstock and Gurnee put limits on how much debt could be taken on and a last group required levels of public notice before any tax increase could be made.
The board discussed ideas to limit its own powers, should they expand with home rule.
Trustee Barbara Dawkins said she’d be in favor of an ordinance requiring the board to let residents know a tax increase vote was coming.
“(I’d like to see) something that would balance public notices and getting residents involved and aware of what we’re doing before we act on it, and perhaps something that requires more than just a simple majority to act,” she said. “On the one hand, I don’t want future boards to have their hands tied, but on the other hand I do want adequate notice to the residents and to make sure that it’s something that not just a simple majority of the board desires.”
Trustee Anne Colton said she’s talked to a lot of residents about home rule and two issues were big concerns: property tax and debt.
“Property tax, the only option you have (to avoid it) is to move. I don’t want to put anything in place where people feel that the only remedy is to leave,” Colton said. “A bond issue, you can’t (roll it back).”
Colton was concerned that a future board could take on debt to build something like a community center or water park and even an election couldn’t fix the problem.
“We’re going to vote the bums out and put new bums in but the new bums are like ‘You know what? We’ve already got signed contracts and we’ve already got ground broken,’” Colton said. “We want to make sure that when we have a bond issue, there’s loads of opportunities for the public to get involved.”
Downers Grove set a good example for home rule limitations, Trustee Larry Burnson said.
“When taxes are passed, (most taxing bodies) never seem to give a true explanation of where the money’s going. They’ll talk about how much they’re bringing in but not where it’s going,” Burnson said. “I thought it was very good that Downers Grove is doing that. They also have additional meetings, a lot of postings, opportunity for public to comment. I also like the supermajority (required to raise taxes).”
“I would certainly advocate limitations much like Downers Grove has put in,” Mayor Richard Hofeld said. “Most people I’ve talked to have said ‘We trust you, as a board, but what’s going to happen down the road?’”
The village posted links to more information about home rule on its website homesweethomewood.com.