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In November, River Forest residents will be asked to consider whether the village should adopt "home rule." Home rule gives local residents increased ability to find local solutions to local issues. Currently, the village's powers are limited to what the state of Illinois provides for local municipalities. Home rule communities are exempt from various regulations and may exercise a greater range of responsibilities for the welfare of their residents.
There have been some objections raised by those who oppose home rule and, unfortunately, several inaccurate and misleading claims about the potential effects of home rule. These deal principally with the village's ability to ignore real estate "tax caps" and incur debt. "Tax caps" refers to the Illinois law that prohibits a non-home rule community such as River Forest from increasing property taxes by more than the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 5 percent, whichever is less.
The village has adopted an ordinance that requires the village board to abide by the tax cap limitations it presently has as a non-home rule community in the event it becomes a home rule community. Thus, if home rule is approved by the voters, the village's share of a resident's property tax will be no greater than what it would be if River Forest remained a non-home rule community.
Some may argue that the present or future village boards could change or even repeal this ordinance. That is technically correct. However, the ordinance can only be changed or repealed by the affirmative vote of five of the seven board members, and then only after a public hearing. Unlike many municipalities, River Forest village board members are not professional politicians who depend on their positions for their livelihood. We are unpaid elected residents who contribute our time and energies to maintaining and improving the quality of life in River Forest.
Could the village incur additional debt under home rule that would put a future tax burden on residents? The answer is no. Home rule communities that have incurred excessive debt that are a future burden to residents (e.g. Bridgeview) do not operate under the tax cap ordinance enacted by River Forest. Those communities have been able to borrow because lenders can be assured of being repaid with the municipality's unlimited ability to increase property taxes. River Forest would not have this ability. The effect of the village's tax-cap ordinance is to limit the village's general obligation borrowing ability to what it presently has as a non-home rule community.
As stated above, a non-home rule community's powers are limited to what the state of Illinois provides, whereas home rule communities are not so limited. A non-home rule community is treated by the state of Illinois like a child who can only do what its parent (the state) permits. A home rule community is treated like an adult by the state of Illinois.
By adopting the tax-cap ordinance, the River Forest village board has demonstrated that it can act like an adult. If we can act like adults in River Forest, then we should be treated like adults by the state of Illinois.
Additional information on the home rule referendum can be found on the village's website (www.vrf.us).
Jim Winikates is a River Forest trustee and chair of its Finance & Administration Committee.