Voters to decide on home rule status with March referendum

By on December 16, 2011

ELBURN—Elburn voters will be asked whether to allow the village to become a home rule unit with a referendum on the March 20 primary ballot.

What that means is giving local officials the ability to make some decisions that directly affect the community, shifting the responsibility away from the county and even the state.

Municipalities may become home rule units by referendum. When a community reaches a population of 25,000, they automatically gain home rule status (Elburn’s population is just over 5,500). Illinois’ constitution describes home rule as “the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.”

Village President Dave Anderson said he originally discussed the possibility of the referendum with Village Administrator Erin Willrett.

“I’m not against it, per se, but I think it’s something I’d really like to spend some time on,” Anderson told the Committee of the Whole. “I don’t think we should rush it onto the March ballot. We can put it on (the ballot) in the fall.”

But Trustee Bill Grabarek said home rule would give the village greater control over issues such as apartment inspections requiring certain standards to be met, especially with the prospect of the ShoDeen development of Elburn Station.

“It would give us certain powers that we may sorely miss as we slog through this economy,” Grabarek said. “We would have certain ordinances that could address inspections of the (ShoDeen) apartments. We have nothing right now.”

Grabarek said he’s done some reading on the issue and that he hasn’t seen any “craziness” regarding taxing powers under home rule. However, Anderson expressed concern over the perception of home rule taxing powers.

“It (home rule) can very quickly come off smelling like that’s how the village is going to get more money,” he said.

Trustee Jeff Walter said he was more concerned with issues involving apartment inspections and being able to do some things on properties they can’t do now.

“It’s going to be a long time till we see these lots built out,” he said. “If we get another subdivision started with one-half done, who knows? There’s a lot of things that home rule makes sense for.”

But Anderson questioned the idea of building inspections.

“You’re gonna need bodies (to do the inspections),” Anderson said. “Where’s the money gonna come from?”

Grabarek said adopting home rule is something municipalities do as a self-protective measure.

“We’re kidding ourselves as to what amount of civilization we want,” he said. “All we’re gonna be faced with without home rule, and the powers that it gives us, is a slow decline until we get down to gravel seats and two people in public works, and one person here.

“It gives us options that we don’t have to exercise, but they are there if necessary,” he said.

Trustee Ken Anderson pointed out that more voters are likely to come out in November since it is a presidential election year.

There was a consensus to go forward with getting the referendum on the primary ballot. The committee agreed to a special Village Board meeting on Dec. 27 to formally approve the referendum to meet a Jan. 3, 2012 filing deadline.

It will be the second referendum on the March ballot put out to Elburn voters who will also decide whether to approve a new property tax to pay for police pensions.

More information on home rule can be found in an educational brochure by the Citizens Advocacy Center online at www.citizenadvocacycenter.org/Brochures/HomeRuleBrochure.pdf