Voters say ‘NO’ to Rockford home rule

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Rockford residents voted on Tuesday against restoring home rule in the city, 35 years after voting it out.

Since 1983, state legislation has been required to authorize the city to do some of the things home rule communities can do without state approval, such as allocating tax funds toward city projects.

Home rule would have restored the ability of the city to manage its own tax revenue, without a public vote.

Critics of home rule have argued that it takes away the public’s right to vote on property tax increases, and that it could be used to implement unreasonable regulations that could drive up the costs in buying, selling and leasing property.

Mayor Tom McNamara and the City Council focused on developing actions to limit the potential for abuse of home rule powers through limitation ordinances. These include: limiting property taxes by tax caps, requiring a supermajority vote of aldermen to approve any new or increased sale or property tax, and limiting municipal debt to 20% less than that allowed to non-home rule communities, and the ability to impeach the mayor or alderman if they abuse the powers home rule affords them.

The city must now implement a new budget to make up for the its shortfall, which will include:

  • Add a Utility Tax on gas and electric services to generate approximately $3.5 million in 2018;
  • Reduce the property tax levy by $400,000;
  • Add $280,000 in net costs to hire five new officers to the Rockford Police Department;
  • Add an additional $100,000 for neighborhood blight reduction and abandoned home demolitions.

Revenue shortfalls, and significant increases in pension costs, have contributed to the growth of the budget deficit, with pension contributions increasing from $9.5 million in 2013 to $17.3 million in 2018. In addition, the State passed a budget in 2017 to reduce municipal funding, which cost Rockford an additional $2.5 million in annual income.

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