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Home rule question will be decided Tuesday

The Homewood home rule vote is Tuesday.

During the past five months, the issue has generated copious amounts of information and vigorous — sometimes contentious debate.

The village has published information about what home rule is and how village officials plan to use the authority if voters approve it.

Two groups of residents, one in support of the question and one opposed, have also published information and views. The groups have hosted public meetings with invited speakers and private gatherings to educate voters and answer questions.

The issue also attracted the attention of Illinois Realtors and Mainstreet Organization of Realtors, statewide organizations that advocate for the real estate industry. The organization invested in mailings and advertising to oppose home rule.

The Chronicle has followed the issue since it was introduced last year, presenting news about the issue as it developed, facts about the home rule designation and the views of people on each side of the debate.

Anyone who is still pondering the issue might wish to visit the links below to help make the decision how to vote.

A review of the issue
Homewood officials have cited three reasons for seeking home rule: increased flexibility in hiring police officers and firefighters, authority to increase accountability for maintenance of single-family rental properties and the ability to share sales tax revenue with local taxing districts.

If voters approve the designation, the village plans to implement a 0.25 percent sales tax, which would increase costs of most purchases in the village by 25 cents for every $10. Groceries, medicines and vehicles are among a number of products that are excluded.

The tax increase is expected to generate about $1 million per year. The village will not keep the money but will distribute it to three local school districts, the public library district and the park district.

Proponents of home rule note that sales tax spreads out the burden of supporting local government because some of the revenue is generated by sales to people who shop in the village but do not live here.

Opponents have expressed concern about the village giving money to other taxing bodies and some wonder whether the sharing arrangement might have a negative effect on any future school referendums.

Village officials have said its non-home rule authority for inspecting rental homes and enforcing code violations is inadequte. Since the recession a decade ago, which resulted in a spike in foreclosures, there has been an increase of single-family rental homes.

Building Department Director Bob Grabowski has noted that rental properties are more likely than owner-occupied homes to have code violations.

Home rule would give the village more tools to address property maintenance issues. This new authority is one of the main concerns of the realtor groups. They argue additional regulations could become a drag on the local housing market, which only recently has shown signs of recovering from the recession.

The hiring issues have generated relatively less attention during the campaign than concerns about taxes. Village officials have described state rules for hiring police and firefighters as time-consuming and expensive. Home rule authority would let the village more easily hire experienced people and relieve some of the time and expense of training them. It also could help reduce the departments overtime costs.

The main message from opponents has been the assertion that taxes will rise if home rule is approved. Homewood trustees have attempted to answer that concern by passing ordinances limiting the village’s ability to raise taxes.

Under state tax caps, property taxes can already be increased without voter approval by 5 percent or the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. One ordinance requires the village to continue adhering to that limitation. Another would require the village to stay within non-home rule debt limits.

Opponents note, however, that this or a future board could rescind those ordinances, thereby allowing the village to increase property taxes and debt without seeking voter approval.

Village officials have noted that home rule can help keep property tax rates stable by giving the village more revenue-generating options.

They also note that the village share of property tax bills is about 10 percent, so if the village does increase its rate, the increase would affect the village portion of the bill, not the total bill.

For opponents, the immediate impact of property tax increases might not be as important as the fact that the village board could make the decision without seeking voter approval.

Probably the heart of the issue is where to locate power. Currently, authority resides primarily with the state. Non-home rule municipalities can only act within authority explicitly granted by the state legislature. The legislature allows voters to make decisions when it comes to property tax or debt increases over certain limits.

Under home rule, much of that authority would shift to village government. Voters would still have influence by voting for and communicating with their representatives on the board of trustees.

If voters approve home rule and are later dissatisfied with it, the designation can be rescinded by referendum.

More information:

Note: The writer’s spouse, Amy Crump, is the director of the Homewood Public Library, which would receive a portion of sales tax proceeds if home rule is approved.

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