Anyone who has followed what Home Rule municipalities do locally know that what impacts people most is the higher taxes that are imposed.
Now, Huntley and Woodstock are seeking to have the U.S. Census Bureau prove they have over 25,000 people.
That’s the level above which a city or a village is automatically a Home Rule unit.
Already Woodstock citizens are organizing to repeal Home Rule, if the “magic” 25,000 figure is certified.
Here’s what Woodstock has to say about why city leaders what to obtain Home Rule status:
WHY IS THE CITY PURSUING A SPECIAL CENSUS?
A municipality is duty-bound to its citizens to receive as much financial reimbursement for the services it provides as is legally possible. The State of Illinois reimburses our local government approximately $151.40 annually for each resident served. Since the 2010 Census, the City of Woodstock has issued building permits and new water accounts that indicate our population includes as many as 659 new residents that have not yet been officially counted. These are residents for whom we are providing City services, yet are receiving no financial remuneration from the State of Illinois to compensate for those new expenditures.
Counting these additional newcomers through the upcoming Special Census will result in almost $100,000 per year in additional revenues that the City can use to provide essential services for long-term community members, such as street resurfacing or additional police presence. A conservative estimate, taking into account the costs of the Special Census and the future completion of the Decennial Census, the City will generate $300,000 in additional State-shared revenues over the period of FY17/18 – FY20/21.
Exceeding 25,000 residents will automatically change Woodstock’s State-controlled governing limitations to the locally-controlled Home Rule status.
It will not automatically raise taxes [emphasis added]; such decisions remain part of the existing process, as discussed and voted upon by elected officials, with welcomed public input, at City Council meetings every 1st and 3rd Tuesday of the month.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS TO RESIDENTS FROM HOME RULE?
Some community members believe Woodstock should not pursue the funding available to pay for our new residents’ services, simply to avoid redefining the City’s governing status. Home Rule community status is currently enjoyed by 80% of all Illinois residents. Home Rule cities are divided almost equally between those who achieved it automatically due to population, and those who voted by referendum to assume that status due to its desirable local control benefits.
Successful Home Rule cities are all around Woodstock including Crystal Lake, McHenry, Algonquin, and Lake in the Hills. [All of these have raised their sales taxes.] Huntley is conducting a Special Census now and will likely qualify as Home Rule as well. The City of Woodstock believes our residents deserve to enjoy the same selective taxing and legislative controls found in all of these neighboring communities.
Home Rule cities are exempt from the State’s property tax cap law [emphasis added] that limits the annual levy request to the lesser of the rate of inflation, or 5 percent.
But Woodstock has no intent to use this exemption, as demonstrated by the fact that Woodstock has chosen not to take even the currently allowed Property Tax Extension Limitation Law (PTELL) increase for five consecutive years, as many other local taxing bodies have done. This has collectively saved Woodstock taxpayers more than $3.2 million over these five years, and the owner of a $150,000 home a total of more than $225 over what the City could have legally raised for property taxes during this time.
Home Rule also means cities have more choices in the kinds of taxes and laws they can create, and they are able to do so with their particular community’s needs in mind. Most importantly, every such proposal still goes through a public process, with Woodstock City Council members encouraging contact by all residents to share their thoughts and concerns.
Home Rule status allows the following level of local control options, not currently possible as a Non-Home Rule community:
- Gives authority to license landlords and create ordinances to require crime-free housing standards through training and enforcement, increasing property values.
- Taxpayers would be exempt from paying certain unfunded State mandates in response to laws and procedures whose implementation can be better addressed by the community.
- Customized flexibility in types of taxation, fees, and licensing; this can shift tax burden away from residents and towards visitor uses, an increasing element of our downtown’s economic sustainability. One example: the State’s set fee to license video game machines is currently only $50; if Home Rule, the City can determine the level for this fee. Many of the Home Rule communities currently charge $1000 per machine, while still strictly controlling the number of machines allowed.
- Can improve the City’s Bond rating, saving taxpayers money on all borrowed funds, an essential part of municipal financing; current bonds (for the police station, library and waterpark, for instance) would be refinanced at this better rate with immediate savings. Each resulting 0.25% reduction in interest rates would save the City $37,900 annually, based on our current outstanding debt.
- The State is prevented from imposing super zoning authority, so local governments can respond to specific situations and better control their own development projects.
- Greater control of personnel policies and practices, including internal hiring and termination of police personnel, a function now controlled in some cases by the City’s Board of Fire & Police Commissioners.
The NIU Center for Governmental Studies conducted two comprehensive studies on the effects of Home Rule status in Illinois since its inception in 1970; these studies confirmed that Home Rule status was not experienced negatively in the large majority of cities. In a handful of cases, mismanagement for reasons other than increased taxes caused the status to be rescinded through referendum. Overall, the studies found there was no identifiable difference in the amount of taxation in Home Rule versus Non-Home Rule communities, while residents reported increased satisfaction with their quality of life as a result of Home Rule status.
Residents are encouraged to call their elected City Council representatives, or the City Manager’s Office at 815-338-4301, with questions or concerns about these or other topics.