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Panel pushes home rule

Voters could decide in November

Published: Tuesday, July 15, 2014 12:48 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 9:48 p.m. CDT

BARRINGTON – An advisory committee on Monday recommended the village let voters decide whether to allow Barrington to become home rule, which would give the village more control and free itself from some state requirements.

At an advisory board meeting, the Home Rule Ad Hoc Committee made its final recommendation. It also sought to ease concerns that home rule would mean higher property taxes.

Committee members, appointed by the village board to review a home rule option and determine if a referendum question should be placed on the November ballot, stated that home rule "would provide new protections and opportunities to better address local issues" and that it "would enhance the village's ability to operate in an efficient and cost-effective manner."

The committee spent about a month reviewing and adding to a staff report from Jason Hayden, the village's director of community and financial services, and attorney Jim Bateman. The report will go back to the village board, and be posted online for the public by early August, Hayden said.

Barrington is currently in the minority, as 20 percent of Illinois residents live in non-home rule municipalities that would need to pass a referendum to become home rule, but have not yet chosen that route. Any municipality with a population of more than 25,000 residents is automatically home rule.

With about 10,327 residents, Barrington could join neighboring towns such as Barrington Hills, Inverness, Lake Barrington, South Barrington and Palatine, in becoming home rule, and therefore be exempt from many state requirements. Illinois has 211 home-rule towns.

'More flexibility' to deal with problems

In two earlier meetings, June 30 and July 7, committee members discussed something voters could be most concerned about – an increase in property taxes under home rule.

If anything, Hayden said, home rule would provide more flexibility so that property taxes would not have to be increased if there were a state action that took away some village revenues.

"There's been a proposal in the state legislature the past couple years to take away a percentage of the village's income taxes – by as much as 50 percent," he said. "That's about $500,000 per year."

Committee members said home rule could allow the village board to consider alternative revenue sources to increase flexibility, resulting in decreased reliance on property taxes.

Plus, home rule would mean local elected officials, rather than politicians in Springfield, could make more taxing and spending decisions.

Nanci Rogers, a co-chairwoman of the committee, said the group reviewed several studies and found no evidence that home-rule towns generally had higher taxes.

Member Brian Farley said the home rule discussion is "not out of result of a present crisis, as the village's finances are in good shape, but rather positions the village to take advantage of unique opportunities that may arise in the future."

Committee co-chairwoman Ruth Schlossberg said she is most excited about the village board "potentially having more flexibility for developing creative solutions to local problems."

Under home rule, the village board could make use of multi-year contracting, enforce ordinances without circuit court costs, improve regulation of rental housing and enhance bond ratings, committee members said.

Hayden said home rule status generally leads to higher bond ratings, and Barrington's bond rating has improved from AA- to AA+, while the state's bond rating continues to decline.

'I don't see any meaningful risks'

Committee members dropped the notion of recommending the village board establish an oversight committee to maintain checks and balances under home rule,. They said home rule is essentially low risk because local elected officials are directly accountable to the local voters every two years.

An example of home rule being effective, as stated in the final staff report, was in terms of utility costs.

Schlossberg said if approved, pending state legislation will transfer the cost of utility access for new water users to existing utility customers, from which Barringon would be exempt under home rule.

"We are strongly recommending a home rule referendum be placed on the ballot in November 2014," Schlossberg said. "It would provide many opportunities, advantages and protections for the community. I don't see any meaningful risks to this municipality."

Hayden said the village board will likely review the recommendation in the village board's committee of the whole meeting Aug. 11 and make a formal decision by Aug. 18.

If the home rule question is placed on the Nov. 4 ballot, and voters approve, Barrington will immediately become a home rule community, Bateman said.

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