Trustees seek focus on Home Rule debate

RF schools may still go for property tax referendum

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While a number of River Forest trustees expressed interest in learning more about Home Rule Monday night, they also sent a clear message to Village President Frank Paris that they won't support such a change in governance simply to help raise tax money for District 90 elementary schools.

The board agreed to schedule three public forums, starting Sept. 21, which will bring in experts representing both sides of the question. If the board ultimately agrees to schedule a referendum for village residents on Home Rule, it could be either March 21 or Nov. 7, 2006.

There are a number of processes the village must go through prior to placing any referendum before the voters, including gathering the required signatures from 10% of all registered River Forest voters.

Meanwhile, officials from District 90 said Monday that it's possible they may still go ahead with plans to launch their own ballot initiative for a property tax increase next November.

"Please consider the timing of your referendum," District 90 President David Gregg urged the village board. Holding both a property tax and Home Rule referendum, he said, could cause confusion among voters.

Saying that he "appreciates the complexity of the issues involved in reaching a choice to seek a referendum on Home Rule," Paris said that he wasn't seeking a quick decision on the issue, and wanted ample time "to carefully study the matter." He added that he was seeking a consensus to allow him to continue discussions with District 90 regarding village assistance of the district via increased sales taxes in the event voters approved Home Rule.

Village Administrator Charles Biondo then gave a brief overview of the history of Home Rule since its creation in 1970. He urged the board to take advantage of the experience of several municipalities, such as Lake Forest, that have recently gone through the same process River Forest is considering.

"Don't reinvent the wheel," he said.

Trustee Michael O'Connell said his research on the subject indicated that it would take between three and six months for adequate study and public comment on the issue.

Public comment Monday was generally supportive of the referendum. But even those in favor of Home Rule expressed concern both about the possibility of unbridled tax increases and the possible unintended consequences stemming from such a major change in the form of local governance. Former village clerk Patrick Hosty, a strong Home Rule proponent, noted that the law regarding Home Rule was complicated, and urged the board "to begin the process of examining Home Rule."

Responding to a comment that a referendum on River Forest Home Rule failed back in 1987, speaker Laurel McMahon noted that the Home Rule question is not a one issue proposal.

"In 1987, it might not be appropriate. In 2005, it might be appropriate. Times change, situations change," she said.

Village resident Pat Massano, who is a Home Rule skeptic, said that she was "concerned that village trustees are blurring the line between what their responsibilities are and the school's responsibilities are."

That seemed to have an impact on board members. While in general agreement with Paris's position, several trustees made it clear that, like Massano, they had a problem with any formal connection between a Home Rule referendum and financial assistance to local schools. The board granted Paris's request to continue discussions with District 90, but raised serious concerns about framing the argument for acquiring Home Rule status in terms of assisting the elementary school district.

"How did this thing get presented to us a referendum on District 90?" asked O'Brien of Paris." I don't know if it's our rightful duty to propose assistance to the school board."

Trustee Al Swanson argued that the board was getting sidetracked from the core issue and "muddying the issue." Swanson insisted that any discussion of Home Rule not be perceived by voters as a referendum on District 90 finances.

"The fundamental issue is, is Home Rule and all its ramifications a good idea for the Village of River Forest?" he said.

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