Woodstock to consider home rule policy similar to Downers Grove

Northwest Herald file
A view of the Woodstock Square from the dome of the Old Courthouse Friday, June 20, 2014.
Northwest Herald file A view of the Woodstock Square from the dome of the Old Courthouse Friday, June 20, 2014.

WOODSTOCK – The Woodstock City Council has agreed to put together a policy that would outline guidelines for the city when it becomes home rule.

In Illinois, when a municipality reaches a population of 25,000, it automatically becomes home rule, and Woodstock expects to reach that mark after a special census is conducted.

While advocates say home rule gives more power to the people who know the community best, the thought of a local body having more options to raise taxes without a referendum worries some residents and taxpayer advocacy groups.

The discussion was brought before the Woodstock City Council at its meeting Tuesday after Woodstock resident Scott Gessert asked the city to consider a policy that home rule community Downers Grove has in place.

The Downers Grove policy lays out recommendations for the village that include providing a notification period for new ordinances and taxes that can be added by home rule communities, and an advisory referendum component for a proposed new tax or tax increase or decrease ordinance, according to a city report.

Two other home rule communities, of about 200 in Illinois, imposed a tax cap ordinance that was modeled after the Property Tax Extension Limitation Law, according to the city’s report. Under home rule, a municipality is not required to follow the PTELL law that limits how much a government can raise property taxes a year.

Several council members said that while they would not have a problem with a policy that encourages transparency, or that holds the PTELL policy in place with an exception for emergencies, it would not be beneficial to have an advisory referendum.

“[Advisory referendums] are still expensive, they take time, and I just don’t think I see that as viable alternative, but I’m willing to listen on the other issues,” council member Mark Saladin said.

Council member Mike Turner said an advisory referendum could slow down government.

"We’re a representative democracy," Turner said. "You voted us in – you can vote us out. That's the advisory referendum.”

During public comment, Gessert brought up a concern about there being no debt limit for a home rule city, but thanked the city for considering a policy.

"I don’t think it will handcuff you guys any more than just simply going through the process,” Gessert said.

Sager and the council came to a consensus that at a future city council meeting, the council would consider a policy in regard to notification, public hearings and limiting PTELL with an emergency provision.

Joe Tirio, founder of Voters in Action and Republican candidate for McHenry County recorder, said the group still plans to canvass Woodstock neighborhoods at the end of the month to inform them of the special census and what being home rule means.

The voter advocacy group is also hosting a home rule event at 7 p.m. May 11 at the Woodstock Public Library, 414 W. Judd St.

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