Freeport May Get to Vote on Home Rule

Journal Standard:

Census officials expect preliminary local results from the 2010 Census to surface in February or March of 2011. In Freeport, these results could push the population below a crucial threshold that determines whether the city qualifies as an automatic home-rule municipality.

Freeport Corporation Counsel Sarah Griffin confirmed Thursday that the impending census results could trigger questions about the status of home rule.

“If the numbers come in below 25,000 then the city clerk is required to certify a question on home rule for the next election ballot,” Griffin said.

The population of Freeport was counted at 26,443 during the 2000 census.

Update 1 p.m.: Freeport rejected the adoption of a city manager form of government for the second time November 2.

Rochelle to Get 250+ New Jobs

[Update 10/21: Groundbreaking ceremony & more info on Nippon Sharyo.]

I haven’t seen this anywhere else but the Rockford Register Star so far.

Gov. Pat Quinn comes to Rochelle at 11 a.m. today to announce that a $35 million to $40 million railcar factory, expected to employ 250 to 350 people, will be built in the city.

…Nippon Sharyo, which will build and operate the plant, is the railcar building partner of Sumitomo Corp. of America, a wholly owned subsidiary of Sumitomo Corp., a Japanese trading company.

According to a Sept. 22 news release on the Sumitomo website, a $560 million contract has been awarded to Nippon Sharyo to build 160 electric bi-level commuter cars for Metra, the commuter railroad that serves Chicago’s suburbs…

The Rochelle plant will consist of a car shell assembly shop, a final assembly shop, a test track and offices.

There must be some mistake! Rochelle doesn’t even have Home Rule! /snark

Seriously, though, what Rochelle does have is the infrastructure; i.e. the rail port. So the real mistake being made is giving a multi-national company that doesn’t need it $12 million in EDGE and other tax credits that the state doesn’t have. When do we stop playing the game?

Also, anybody remember why DeKalb turned down the rail port? The hindsight view doesn’t look very pretty right now.

Bell to Refund Property Taxes It Overcharged

The State of California is forcing the city government of Bell, a non-prosperous suburb of Los Angeles whose administrators were among the most highly paid in the country, to refund $3 million in property taxes the municipality overcharged. About 4,000 property owners will be reimbursed under the plan.

Bell is not the only California city with such problems, only the latest. It joins its neighbors Vernon, Maywood and at least four other communities in the region that have come under investigation by county and state authorities. Continue reading Bell to Refund Property Taxes It Overcharged

Time to Look at Bell

Home to 37,000 people, Bell, California is one of the least prosperous suburbs of Los Angeles at a per capita income of about $24,000, yet its residents pay the second-highest property tax rate in Los Angeles County — even higher than that of Beverly Hills.

The taxes have gone to pay some of the highest public sector compensation in the nation, including $787,000 to its city manager and up to $100,000 each for city council members. In comparison, the salary of the CEO of Los Angeles County is $338,000. Bell officials have boasted of balanced budgets but records show compensation for its management employees has continued to rise even in the face of layoffs and other cuts to public safety and community services programs. Continue reading Time to Look at Bell

The Fatal Flaw in Home Rule Law

[This is the 2nd part of a series examining home rule in Illinois. The first one is here.]

Municipal home rule powers are granted by the Illinois Constitution.

Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.

About 37 states (different sources cite different numbers, seemingly depending on how it’s defined) allow for municipal home rule in some form. Illinois, however, is unique in that its constitution lacks a mechanism for local control, namely a municipal charter or constitution that could limit home rule powers at the local level.

John Gile, citizen journalist, author and NIU alum, runs a website called A Rockford resident who served as a spokesperson for the successful 1983 repeal of home rule in that city, Gile describes the problem thusly:

Without the controls of a local charter or constitution and with citizens stripped of their right to vote on city issues, so-called home rule empowers politicians to:
1. Raise taxes without citizen permission.
2. Impose new taxes in the form of fees, licenses, and regulations.
3. Expedite seizures of private property.
4. Give city property to private interests without competitive bidding.
5. Take greater control over citizens’ lives, livelihoods, property, and liberty.
6. And on and on . . . “…Powers and functions of home rule units shall be construed liberally.” (Illinois Constitution)

In states other than Illinois, the same constitutional process is followed to pass power from the state to local government. Because Illinois left that crucial provision out, home rule government in Illinois is like a car with no brakes and a steering wheel that works only once every four years.

Continue reading The Fatal Flaw in Home Rule Law

What is Home Rule?

Before we can think about revoking it, we have to understand it. Here is the best description I’ve come across so far:

In the United States, the national and state governments share power in a system of federalism, with both levels of government holding certain checks over the other. However, no similar balance exists when it comes to the relationship between a state and a local government; a local government performs its functions solely at the pleasure of the state government. Because the different communities of a state have widely different needs, the state government may not always be able to meet those needs. Therefore, for the sake of local autonomy, the state may grant communities the ability to exercise certain forms of self-governance. This delegation of power from the state to a unit of local government is known as home rule. Home rule designation allows units of local government, such as city councils, to exercise certain powers within their jurisdiction concurrently with the state legislature. Simply put, home rule allows local government to solve local problems. For example, in addition to the regular state sales tax, a city council might impose an additional sales tax for products sold within the city in order to raise revenue for city use.

There are three checks on home rule powers (emphasis mine):

First, the legislature has the authority to remove a function from the scope of home rule. Second, the voters of a community can revoke home rule power if the local government does something they do not like. Third, in its role as interpreter of the constitution, the court system has a say behind the precise meaning of the home rule power. Because the people have the authority to abolish home rule completely, they hold the ultimate check.

What we don’t like–and this is why I support a referendum question about revoking home rule–is that DeKalb is fixing to raise our taxes in as many as six different ways when we have made clear we would prefer cuts in the budget to eliminate shortfalls in this time of economic downturn. For whatever reason, Dekalb City Council has decided not to take its direction from the taxpayers.