The March Primary Election is just days away. Many Rockford voters still haven’t made up their minds about Home Rule. Voters on both sides of the argument are passionate and are standing behind their stance. While they both want what’s best for Rockford, the future of the Forest City still lies in voters hands.
“The basic tenant of Home Rule Authority is to shift power from Springfield to your local government,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.
In five days, Rockford will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for Home Rule. The Mayor has support from most of City Council, but others still aren’t buying it.
“You vote to be a Home Rule community, that will be the last time you’ll be able to vote on tax increases. Anytime they want to issue bonds and increase debt [they can],” said Brian Leggero, who opposes the measure.
Alderman Venita Hervey held a forum in favor of Home Rule on Thursday. She and Mayor McNamara answered questions. Some asked how it will benefit the city. Supporters say it will provide relief for property owners, by putting taxes in place that visitors will pay, which would include things like the hotel-motel tax, and an increase in the licensing fee on gaming machines.
“Any dollars we can get in those areas, we can reduce the property tax burdens for the people that live here,” said Mayor McNamara.
As of right now, gaming revenue brings the city $1.4 million. A fee increase could drive it up to $1.9 million. Home Rule opponents argue a move like that would hurt businesses.
“They count on that money,” said Leggero. “A lot of the businesses are making money off those machines, that’s why they have them. If they keep increasing the fees, then it’s going to make it so they have less machines [and] less revenue.
Opponents also worry about giving the City too much freedom. Right now, Rockford needs special permission from Springfield to make some of those moves. Mayor McNamara and the City Council put what they call ‘guardrails’ in place, to prevent abuse. People against Home Rule aren’t convinced those restrictions will last.
“They created these ordinances, [that] any city council can change those ordinances,” said Leggero. “The same city council, as soon as they have Home Rule, can vacate all the ordinances. That’s the unlimited power Home Rule gives.”
“I think what we’re seeing is a groundswell of support,” said Mayor McNamara. “Citizens from [Rockford’s] far West side to far East, saying ‘we are sick of the Springfield solution that has not worked in the past 35 years.'”
Primary Election day is next Tuesday, March 20th.