The Rockford Area Realtors Association (RAR) is opposing a proposal to return ‘Home Rule’ to Rockford, citing, among other things, tax abuses by other municipalities with ‘Home Rule’ powers in Illinois.
At a news conference Tuesday, RAR cited four major concerns with Rockford’s proposal to restore ‘Home Rule’ powers to the Mayor and City Council after voters stripped them of ‘Home Rule’ following a series of tax increases in the 1980’s.
First, they say many middle-to-low income households struggle to pay taxes in Rockford now, and ‘Home Rule’ powers would allow the city to impose taxes and fees which would potentially impact them the most.
Secondly, they cited a ‘Chicago Tribune’ investigation which found ‘Home Rule’ municipalities were more likely to invest and borrow in ‘risky ventures’ which could potentially hurt taxpayers down the road.
Third, they say that ‘Home Rule’ lacks checks and balances to protect residents from new taxes and fees.
Fourth, the RAR believes that ‘Home Rule’ powers in Illinois are too expansive, allowing city officials endless possibilities to levy taxes and fees if approved.
Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara has tried to allay some of those concerns by putting so-called ‘guard rails’ on the city’s ‘Home Rule’ powers if approved by voters. At Monday night’s City Council meeting, a committee approved ordinances which would limit property tax rates, require super-majorities and public hearings for any tax increases, and placed limits on how much debt the city could accrue under ‘Home Rule’. The full City Council will vote on the ordinances next week.
Those ‘guard rails’ helped earn the endorsement for ‘Home Rule’ by the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.
McNamara further argues that ‘Home Rule’ puts decisions more in the hands of local public officials without having to rely on the approval of state lawmakers for approval of certain taxes and fees better decided at the local level.
Opponents contend that the city has a $10 million budget deficit due in part to fiscal mismanagement and wants to use ‘Home Rule’ powers to raise taxes and fees as a means to help close that gap. In fact, Rockford Area Realtors specifically mentioned the lack of a plan to reduce property taxes, which are among the highest in the nation, as part of the proposal to restore ‘Home Rule’ powers.
The issue will be decided by Rockford voters by referendum on the March 20th primary election ballot.