Welcome to the Frequently Asked Questions section of the Rockford for Home Rule (RHR) website. This section will be updated frequently by the RHR committee, as questions and issues develop leading to the election on March 20, 2018.
What is Home Rule?
Under the 1970 Illinois Constitution, Home Rule shifts decision making from the state level of government (Springfield) to the local level. This was done to enable communities throughout the state, which differ greatly from urban to suburban to rural, to find local solutions to local problems.
Home Rule communities are granted the ability to manage themselves. Conversely, non-Home-Rule communities are only able to do those things expressly allowed by the State, which makes them heavily dependent on a dysfunctional State legislature and limits their ability to create local solutions to local issues.
How does a community become a Home Rule Community?
Municipalities with populations over 25,000 are automatically granted Home Rule status, while smaller communities can put the question on a ballot and let voters decide. The majority of Illinois' 12.8 million citizens live in Home Rule communities. The City of Rockford is by far the largest city in Illinois without Home Rule.
When did Rockford lose Home Rule?
Rockford lost Home Rule authority in 1983.
What nearby communities have Home Rule?
Several nearby cities have home rule, including Woodstock, Naperville, Elgin, Aurora, Joliet, Peoria, Belvidere, DeKalb and Freeport, as well as dozens of other suburban communities... With the new census in 2020, it's expected that Loves Park and Machesney Park will cross the 25,000 population threshold and be granted automatic home rule authority as well.
What are the general benefits of Home Rule?
Home Rule provides communities with the ability to solve their challenges and take advantage of opportunities at a local level. This can include increasing a community's ability to improve its neighborhoods. In Rockford, since the Great Recession, no neighborhood has gone untouched by the blight caused by abandoned and foreclosed homes. With Home Rule, Rockford could establish a Land Bank to acquire titles to blighted properties, eliminate them as liabilities in a neighborhood and transfer those properties to new, responsible owners. Rockford could also require banks to take responsibility for properties in foreclosure, ensuring that they don't fall into disrepair and preventing them from becoming "zombie" properties that lower property values and deteriorate neighborhoods.
Financial Flexibility and Stability
Rockford's long-term financial stability is being impacted by decreasing revenues (a reduction in state revenues and slower equalized assessed valuation growth) coupled with increasing expenses (higher insurance, pension and health care costs, aging infrastructure, and additional state mandates).
Without home rule, Rockford has very few funding options to pay its bills. The end result is that Rockford is forced to rely too heavily on property taxes.
Home Rule would provide Rockford with the flexibility to explore new funding sources that lessen the burden on property owners. It also provides the City with the ability to charge non-residents for programs and services furnished by the City to non-residents. This makes the community less reliant upon property taxes as its principal source of revenue.
For example, Home Rule status would allow the City to use existing Hotel/Motel Tax revenue for infrastructure and public safety. Without Home Rule, the Springfield legislature prohibits the City from using those funds for anything but marketing for tourism and economic development. Home Rule status would also allow lower interest rates and strengthen the City's bond rating.
Taxes and Funding
Do property taxes increase under Home Rule?
No! Home Rule does not increase property taxes.
There is no evidence that Home Rule municipalities have higher or faster growing property taxes than comparable non-Home Rule municipalities.
In fact, cities with Home Rule status are able to diversify revenue streams in order to shift the tax burden from property taxes to other revenue sources.
How does Home Rule affect school district funding?
Home Rule has no effect on public school funding, as school districts are independent governmental and funding bodies. (This is not 100% true. The City could enter into an IGA with RPS 205 to divert revenue from a home rule tax, such as a 1% sales tax, to RPS 205 so that the school district could avoid raising its levy)
How do residents control the use of Home Rule?
First and foremost, by electing candidates that are fiscally responsible and holding them to their promises at each election. In addition, Home Rule communities can enact ordinances to recall elected officials before their terms expire.
The Illinois Constitution and state statutes also put limits on certain Home Rule powers. For example, Home Rule communities cannot levy taxes on income, occupation, or earnings.
Regardless of Home Rule status, another safeguard for taxation and spending restraint is resident participation in City government and local elections.
- In Rockford each week, both committee meetings and full Council meetings are streamed live online and broadcast on public access TV.
- Meeting agendas and the full informational packet provided to Council members are available online to all residents prior to each meeting.
- Residents can address full Council and Committee meetings each week.
- The Mayor and City Council members are required to be residents of Rockford and are personally impacted by any action they take.
- The Mayor and City Council are up for election every four years, with the next election taking place in early 2021.
With Home Rule, how do we know that the Mayor and Council won't increase the City's debt load?
The City of Rockford has an ordinance in place that is 20 percent more restrictive than the State's debt policy.
Doesn't Home Rule take the power out of citizen's hands?
Home Rule actually gives more power to Rockford residents. Today, residents can only vote for one State Representative and one State Senator. Of the 177 State Legislators, only 5 represent Rockford residents.
Conversely, all 14 members of City Council and the Mayor must live in the city and have skin in the game. These men and women shop at local stores, work at local companies, have kids who attend our schools, are members of our churches and are active in our community.
Is Home Rule being considered now because of Rockford's budget challenges?
The City of Rockford Finance Task Force, made up of community volunteers with expertise in accounting, finance and operations, worked for nearly six months before issuing its report with recommendations to help close our 2018 budget gap. While one of the recommendations in the report was to place Home Rule on the ballot for voter approval, the group's list of recommendations were developed unrelated to Home Rule status.
In addition, the City has been working on a number of areas to achieve cost savings that are also unrelated to its Home Rule status. Those include:
- Consolidating 911 Center operations with Winnebago County.
- Partnering with other municipalities and organizations to save money through joint purchasing. These include the City of Loves Park, Rockford Park District, Rockford Public Library and Winnebago County.
So, why Home Rule now?
It's been 34 years since Rockford lost home rule authority. Since then, we've lost thousands of jobs, seen property taxes increase by 79 percent, faced challenges with increased crime and crumbling infrastructure and placed too much reliance on a dysfunctional Springfield legislature to control our destiny. While we are seeing progress in many areas of our community, we must change our model to move forward and build a stronger and more secure Rockford.
We cannot maintain the status quo. We must improve the way Rockford operates as a community and Home Rule is a critical tool to bring about that positive change.
I trust this Mayor and this Council but I am worried about what happens with the next mayor and the next Council?
City Council has enacted the most restrictive self-limiting ordinances of any home rule municipality in Illinois. These ordinances prevent the City Council from raising property taxes and issuing debt above the limit for non-home rule municipalities, prohibit the City from enacting new home rule sales taxes without a public hearing, and requiring a super majority vote to raise any property tax or any tax that is not available to non-home rule municipalities.
As residents, it's critical we stay engaged in the process of governing and choose elected officials who best can serve the needs of all our residents. Over the last five years, the City Council has held the line on property taxes and actually reduced the City's property tax levy in 2017. We must continue to elect dedicated and skilled men and women to serve as mayor and members of the City Council who are committed to fiscal responsibility.
One thing is guaranteed: Rockford residents will never get to vote for any but 5 of the 177 State legislators in Springfield. Relying on Springfield to control our destiny is not the answer.
If Home Rule passes, what taxes and fees would be considered?
Most importantly, nothing happens automatically if Home Rule is ratified by voters on March 20. Home Rule is simply a tool to be used by the Mayor, City Council and City staff to develop local solutions to local challenges. On March 21, nothing would change.
However, if Home Rule authority is returned to Rockford, there are a number of initiatives under consideration by the Mayor, City Council and staff, including:
- Lift Assist - Privately-run senior citizen nursing homes and independent living facilities frequently call 911 to have our firefighters come out and pick-up/stabilize seniors who may have fallen. By refusing to use their own staff to lift and stabilize seniors who have fallen, the private nursing homes save money on workers compensation and liability insurance. By calling 911, they use our trucks and highly-trained men and women to shift the facility's liability and workers compensation on to Rockford taxpayers. Currently, the Springfield legislature prohibits the City from charging the nursing homes anything to recoup its costs. With home rule, we could charge the facility for the services we are rendering and the liability and workers compensation we are inheriting.
- Gaming - The Springfield legislature says the most we can charge for an annual license fee is $25 per gaming machine. Most comparable home rule municipalities charge between $100 and $500 per machine, while some have even charged upwards of $1,000-$2,500 per machine.
- Hotel Motel Tax - For example, adding $1 to each hotel/motel room booked in Rockford would allow the City to gain additional revenue to be used in public safety, infrastructure and other areas to strengthen our community. With this type of increase, we more than remain competitive, we garner revenue from visitors and non-residents people coming to the city to use our services and visit our world-class attractions.
What is "local preference" and how is it related to Home Rule?
Currently, as a non-home rule municipality, any projects completed by the City must be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder, which means often times our local contractors are outbid by out-of-state contractors. In 2017, the City of Rockford was forced to award over $5million in contracts to out-of-state bidders. With Home Rule, the City Council could pass a "local preference" ordinance requiring that any Rockford company that was not the lowest initial bidder be given the option to match or beat the lowest bid. That ordinance helps keep local tax dollars local. Without Home Rule, the City cannot pass such an ordinance.
What benefits has the City of Rockford seen since losing Home Rule in 1983?
We have yet to come up with any benefits to our community since losing home rule.
What if Home Rule does not pass on March 20?
Without home rule, the City has very few options to balance its budget. The likely result will be an increase in property taxes, enacting a utility tax, and cuts to vital City services that could impact public safety, emergency services, and public works.