By Jim Hagerty
CITY HALL — Rockford aldermen, on Monday, approved a set of ordinances that would limit the city’s powers as a home rule municipality if voters reinstate the provision this spring.
Among the self-limiting ordinances approved was one that has raised significant concern–that leaders would have the power as a home-rule authority to raise property taxes at will, behind closed doors, or as high as they wish without voter approval. Under the ordinance, taxes cannot exceed the non-home rule limit established under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL).
Any increase in property or sales tax would also require a supermajority vote by City Council. It would require a public notice and an automatic layover of 15 days prior to adopting an ordinance that creates a new sales tax or increases existing sales taxes not authorized under the municipal code for non-home rule units.
In terms of debt the city could incur under home rule, there would be an ordinance in place that would prohibit leaders from exceeding the limitation equal to 20 percent less of what is allowed for non-home rule authorities.
The ordinances were approved unanimously.
A limitation that has not been in front of the full council yet is one that would give citizens the opportunity to recall officials in the event home rule powers are abused. Officials say they are holding it out for now to ensure it gets presented in a way that doesn’t violate the civil statutes.
If the referendum approved March 20, Rockford would be a home rule community the next day.
Home rule is granted to Illinois municipalities with 25,000 or more residents. Rockford repealed home rule in 1983.
“The ordinances that passed will make Rockford one of the most restrictive home-rule city in the state,” Mayor Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara said.
The mayor added that if a recall ordinance is approved, Rockford would be Illinois’ most restrictive home rule body. He also said implementing the ordinances shows he and the city’s 14 aldermen are concerned about what citizens have voiced since the push for reinstatement began last fall.
“Nobody wants to see their taxes go up,” he said. “Because when they do, we all bear that burden.”
The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau agreed with McNamara by announcing its support of home rule Tuesday.
The RACVB board voted to support the referendum following a period of research and internal dialogue, which included a presentation from and discussions with McNamara and representatives of the Rockford for Home Rule committee.
“The board feels strongly that the City of Rockford would be best served by returning to home rule,” said RACVB Board Chair David Anderson. “At RACVB, we know that what is good for residents will help attract visitors. Our residents are concerned about public safety and want to see their neighborhoods thrive. Home rule will provide our elected leaders the ability to make decisions locally and efficiently about what is best for Rockford, rather than relying on Springfield to do the right thing. We need to return control to the citizens of Rockford.”
To the Rockford Apartment Association, there would be too much of that control placed in the hands of the city if home rule passes. RAA Director of Legislative and Public Affairs Paul Arena said the measure would give the City of Rockford expanded powers to increase taxes, raise fees and enact regulations that it currently does not have.
“We appreciate the administration’s proposal to enact ordinances to restrict the City’s use of Home Rule power,” Arena said. “But the fact that these restrictions are necessary is evidence of the flawed nature of home rule power in Illinois. Other cities that have enacted Home Rule have increased real estate taxes, created rental fees and enacted laws that force landlords to evict tenants for minor legal infractions.” R.