Meeting once a week for city council meetings sometimes just isn't enough time for members to cover every topic. One of which is the possibility of bringing home rule back to Rockford, a topic that was nearly dead and buried.
Home rule gives municipal governments more flexibility to make their own rules regarding things like taxes, and public safety. "A home rule entity has a whole lot of authority to do things as long as it doesn't violate a specific restriction in state law or the Illinois or federal constitution," says Patrick Hayes, Rockford's Legal Director.
Rockford is currently the largest Illinois city that is not Home Ruled. This means city leaders often have to go to Springfield to address their needs.
Rockford was under home rule starting in 1970, but the city went back to non-home rule 13 years later when it was voted out. The topic was briefly discussed in city council again in 2006, but it didn't have enough support to make it on a ballot.
With this term's new members settling into their seats, city leaders decided to bring home rule back up for discussion. "I think home rule is often too simplified in saying if you pass home rule you're just going to tax us more. No one on city council today wants to tax citizens more. What we would consider is taxing those residents who are not from Rockford," says Third Ward Alderman Thomas McNamara.
Take for example what the city does with it's hotel tax revenue. Hayes explains, under non-home rule, those dollars can only go toward supporting further tourism. But with home rule, that money could be re-distributed to other city funds for emergencies.
There are two ways to a get home rule referendum on a ballot. Citizens can form petitions, or the city council can take a vote.
Ninth Ward Alderman Teena Newburg says, if the city wants to go ahead with home rule, the hardest part will be informing citizens about it's benefits, after it left many with a bad taste in their mouths the last time around.
"I think we can get a group to take to the city of Rockford, voters, what we want with home rule and I think if it's put to them the right way, and that we are responsible individuals in this city, I think yes, under referendum, I think it might pass," says Newburg.
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