By Devin Rose
If River Forest voters decide this fall to make the village a home rule community, the village board will not have unlimited ability to raise property taxes.
The board voted unanimously Monday night to pass the self-imposed ordinance that would not allow them to raise property taxes more than 5 percent — something a home rule community could otherwise do. As a non-home rule community, trustees can only raise them 5 percent or the one-year increase in the consumer price index, whichever is less (the CPI is almost always less).
Home rule communities — an automatic designation for municipalities with more than 25,000 people — have all the authority granted to larger-population municipalities, except that which is specifically prohibited in the state constitution or statutes. But residents have expressed concern that it will give current and future boards almost unlimited power.
"I'm distressed to see that it's going forward," resident Alexander Jacobs told the board at the meeting. "It's an inducement to move out of the community."
Village President John Rigas said he understands the concern, but, "We're not looking to build Toyota Park here," a reference to the stadium built in 2006 in Bridgeview, a home rule community. The village nearly tripled property taxes to cover debt payments for the facility, according to a Chicago Tribune article.
Rigas said the ability under home rule to levy a gasoline tax would be beneficial because it would bring added revenue into the village from people passing through it. Gas stations across the street from each other in River Forest and Oak Park (which is home rule), charge the same amount, but the Oak Park station brings in tax revenue.
Village Administrator Eric Palm said educational materials about the effects of home rule will be posted on the village website in the next week or so.
Staff made other changes to the draft ordinance presented in August, including clarifying the definition of a bona fide emergency — one of the exceptions to adhering to the tax cap — and eliminating other exceptions for pensions and capital infrastructure. They also clarified the exception for unfunded mandates and added to the definition of "aggregate levy" to include existing debt service under the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, or PTELL.