Rockford residents voted against restoring home rule in the city on Tuesday’s primary election, and now city officials say they’re forced to add a utility tax to make up for the budget shortfall.
After months of pushing for home rule, which included weekly meetings with the public about the tax flexibility it could bring to the city, the referendum failed on election night, as Rockford residents voted it down 53% to 43%.
“So, right now, nothing is planned to go after home rule,” Mayor Tom McNamara says. “I think my support for home rule has not diminished. I think if you look at Elgin, Naperville, Aurora, Peoria, they all have home rule. We are the largest city in the state without home rule.”
Because home rule did not pass, and with the city facing a $10 million deficit, the Mayor says there is a backup budget proposal in place which will need to be approved by the end of the month.
McNamara says that losing the flexibility that home rule could have provided means new fees and taxes could be coming. One is a registration fee for landlords which could raise $500,000 for the city.
“A year ago, when they first started to talk about it, I included something there to say that, any tax or fee imposed by the city, would be payable by the tenant when it becomes due,” says Paul Arena of the Rockford Apartment Association.
Rockford is also considering a utility tax for the non-home rule budget.
City leaders acknowledge that added expenses to taxpayers will not be popular, and think it could lead to home rule returning as a discussion further down the road.
Winnebago County Board Chairman, Frank Haney, says, “We had a big discussion. The community spoke. Could I see the conversation coming up again within the city of Rockford? Certainly, there’s that discussion.”
The “Plan B” budget’s utility tax would apply to natural gas and electricity. City officials say that would generate $3.5 million in revenue this year.
Rockford’s aldermen will discuss other potential revenue sources for the budget at the next city council meeting on Monday night.