“Home Rule” to Return to Rockford?

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Some Rockford leaders are pushing for the return of “Home Rule.”  It’s a policy that would allow the city to raise or lower taxes without taxpayer approval.  Mayor Tom McNamara supports it.  However,  there are others who see the initiative as a way for the city to tax its way out of debt.

The Mayor joined members of Citizens Group to advocate for Home Rule on Wednesday morning. The strategy enables larger cities like Rockford to have more autonomy for many issues, such as taxation.

Holmstrom and Kennedy Law Firm Partner Roberta Holzwarth says this change would benefit taxpayers and Rockford residents.

“What  Home Rule can do is help us diversify our revenue souces,” said Holzwarth.

Rockford had Home Rule until 1983, but angry voters went to the polls and eliminated the rule due to rising taxes.  It’s up to voters to approve new tax revenue streams. Holzwarth says this can give more flexibility to city council when it comes to who gets taxed and how.

“Ultimately, the decision regarding what revenue streams might be sought will be up to the city council,” said Holzwarth.  However, she acknowledges there will be opposition.

 Rockford faces a $10 million budget deficit.  Winnebago County Finance Chairman Ted Biondo says he opposes the Home Rule and sees the initiative as a way for City officials to tax their way out of it.

“If you have ways to raise taxes without voter approval with Home Rule, which you do, then yes, your deficits will decrease,” said Biondo.

Home Rule could help city council reduce some of the highest property taxes in the nation, but Biondo suspects in the end  that Rockford residents would end up paying more in taxes overall.

“The fact is.. so what if you get sales tax,” said Biondo.  “You [have] revenues in other ways, fees to charge, etcetera.  The people have to look at their total tax bill.  That’s what you look at.  If you decrease one, but increase the rest you haven’t done anything for the people except increase their taxes.”

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