Dozens of residents turn up to hear pros and cons of home rule in River Forest

Service Club hosts forum in advance of Nov. 6 referendum on topic

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By Devin Rose

Staff Reporter

With about two and a half weeks until River Forest voters can decide whether they want the village to be governed under home rule, dozens of residents turned up at a forum facilitated by the River Forest Service Club Thursday night to ask questions and hear presentations before the vote.

Since village trustees decided to put home rule on the ballot this year, there have been strong opinions on both sides about how it will affect residents. The opposition—which included residents Al Popowits and Bruno Behrend speaking Thursday—has maintained that giving the village the same authority as a larger municipality will let officials use almost absolute power to spend, tax and incur debt.

Home rule is a designation automatically given to municipalities in Illinois with more than 25,000 people. In smaller communities such as River Forest, home rule must be approved by residents in a referendum. As a home rule community, village government would be able to take any actions except those prohibited by the state constitution or statute. Currently, village officials can only take actions within specific authority granted under the 1970 state constitution.

Trustees Jim Winikates and Carmela Corsini spoke Thursday in support of home rule, which they said would let local elected officials control local matters, instead of legislators in Springfield.

"Elected officials are your friends, your neighbors, the people you see at the Jewel," Corsini said, adding that trustees would be impacted by any changes they make the same way other residents are.

She and Winikates told the audience how becoming home rule would enable the village government to enact a vacant home ordinance to hold lenders accountable for foreclosed properties. They could make zoning variations easier to obtain and bring in new revenue streams from a gas tax or head tax on the village's two universities—though they said the taxes were just options at this point.

To ease concerns about increased property taxes if home rule were approved, a major issue raised by some residents during this discussion, the village board approved an ordinance saying it would still adhere to the existing property tax cap, with exceptions. Winikates agreed that debt could still be incurred, but a tax cap ordinance would inhibit anyone from lending the village money.

Popowits argued that the desire for home rule is primarily about money, and told attendees that the potential new taxes listed by proponents were probably not the only ones officials would implement.

"It is in the nature of government entities to borrow and spend more than they can afford," said Behrend. "Our mindset is, please live within your means."

Besides taxes, Popowits said home rule would take away citizens' right to referendum. Residents would no longer have the right to participate in the decision making process, he said. But Winikates said referendums could only be conducted during elections.

When asked by an audience member why the issue is coming up now, Corsini said there was not one specific reason. She said the village board and staff have come across instances where residents want their help but they can't do anything because the village is non-home rule. For example, neighbors have called the village about adjacent foreclosed homes.

The two groups were also at odds when asked about the limitations of home rule. One resident asked them where the power stops. Corsini said the village can't be more stringent than the state statutes. But Behrend questioned whether local authority is ever less stringent than the state.

The village board will discuss the Nov. 6 home rule referendum at a meeting Monday night.

Reader Comments

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Greg from RF  

Posted: October 23rd, 2012 4:36 PM

@ Kelly...Link Tom talked about.

Tom from River Forest  

Posted: October 23rd, 2012 3:02 PM

Kelly I think that whomever you spoke to is mistaken. Municipal officials are required each year to make financial disclosures pursuant to the Illinois Governmental Ethics Act. On those forms, the elected official must disclose any connections that he or she has with anyone doing business with the agency to which they are elected. The disclosure information is available on the Cook County Clerk's website.

Kelly in RF from River Forest  

Posted: October 23rd, 2012 1:41 PM

I contacted the RF Village office to inquire if Board members are required to disclose "conflicts of interest". (Board members should not have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in the outcome of an issue on which they are voting.) Not surprisingly, that information is not available. As long as Board members do not have to disclose "conflicts" and are able to exercise their power without accountability, I will not support home rule.

Brian Slowiak from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2012 9:52 AM

The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.

T.J. from Oak Park  

Posted: October 23rd, 2012 9:22 AM

Only a fool would vote for Home Rule. Or someone looking to fleece the taxpays of their money. Don't vote for something that weakens your position at the bargaining table as a local resident. Ask the folks in Bridgeview what they think of Home Rule.

Bob from River Forest  

Posted: October 22nd, 2012 9:29 AM

Corsini: "trustees would be impacted by any changes they make the same way other residents are." No - most, if not all, trustees are wealthy. There are thousands of condo owners & renters who cannot afford huge increases in taxes & other costs. Also, why is Winikates the spokesman for HR? He's not running again. So he says, "Trust us trustees," and yet he shows that most of them leave after one term & can't be held accountable. Last, HR will not help with foreclosures - the few that exist in RF.

Rf voter from River forest  

Posted: October 21st, 2012 9:23 PM

I was surprised to find out that home rule includes eminent domain too. So not only can the village enter into private and public agreements with developers they could also help get some properties if home rule passes. Voting No!

alberg from Oak Park  

Posted: October 21st, 2012 6:17 PM

If you don't want to lose what little control you have on municipal finances, VOTE NO!!!

Bruce in RF  

Posted: October 19th, 2012 8:16 PM

So let's see now. Gas tax, check. Liquor tax, check. Head tax on universities, ch..., oops, maybe not. How about throwing the zoning ordinances out so the Board can "speed up the process" of deciding who gets a variance and who doesn't? Oh, and then ther's that pesky issue of the Police Chief not being able to re-organize the department without HR. Never mind that it cost $500k to get out of the mess 2 previous chief's got us into when they re-organized the department. Trust us. Riiight...


Posted: October 19th, 2012 8:02 PM

Mr. W now changes his tune. Previously he said that the Village could not incur debt because of the inability to raise property taxes. Now he says that it IS possible to incur debt by using the anticiapted sales tax rather than property tax to guarantee the deal. So despite the new ordinance, RF could still make a sweetheart deal with a connected developer and leave the residents on the hook if it doesn't pan out. Sorry, but I'm voting no.

RF Achievement  

Posted: October 19th, 2012 6:53 PM

@ jim W. you can not trust anything he says - or at least 90% of it. He is supposed to stand for ethics, and he is shilling for this thing. He is shameful. Vote NO!

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