Cary says home rule has ‘no downside,’ but opponents see it as a license to tax

The village of Cary seeks to be a home-rule municipality to have more control over funds and ordinances. But opponents say that increased local power is why Cary shouldn’t be a home-rule community.

Mayor Mark Kownick asserted that “there is no downside” for Cary to be a home-rule village and more local government control would be better going forward.

“We don’t want the state to tell us what to do anymore,” he said.

Many opposition groups are based in real estate since home rule can mean higher property taxes. Other opposing views include too much government oversight and concerns about maintaining accountability for public officials.

“We believe property owners should retain their control over taxes and regulations,” Illinois Realtors Government Affairs Director Neeley Erickson said.

Kownick acknowledged the Illinois Realtors’ outright opposition at a village board meeting on March 5. Residents have been receiving flyers from the real estate organization’s members in opposition to home rule, claiming it would increase grocery bills and allow villages to approve taxes without resident approval.

“That is misleading and just not true,” Kownick said.

Officials say home-rule status will allow the municipality to increase sales taxes and fund public infrastructure.

Local voters will decide the matter on the March 19 primary ballot.

If the home-rule status passes, the village plans to implement a 1% retail sales tax. The tax could bring in an extra $500,000 to $600,000 annually for the village, Cary Assistant Village Administrator Courtney Sage said.

“All of our surrounding communities have that tax,” Kownick said. “It levels the playing field.”

The home-rule retail tax would exclude essential items such as groceries and pharmaceutical prescriptions, Sage said.

Home rule would mean there is no maximum limit to a local sales tax, which can be increased in 0.25% increments, according to the Illinois Department of Revenue.

With the extra revenue, Cary aims to fund services such as road infrastructure maintenance, plowing, wastewater treatment, community events, public safety and improvements to Cary Lake at Rotary Park.

Erickson argued that the village could fund infrastructure improvements through a non-home-rule sales tax, which is something the village can propose on a future ballot if home rule does not pass.

“There are a ton of items in grocery stores that are subject to the current 7% sales tax rate in Cary,” Erickson said. “When residents visit the local coffee shop or restaurant, they will pay more.”

The village board passed an ordinance requiring the village to limit any property tax levy increases to what is allowed under the Property Tax Extension Limitation law, known as the tax cap. That law caps yearly levy increases to the rate of inflation or 5%, whichever is lower, but home-rule communities are exempt.

Real estate agents, however, argue that home rule can affect homeowners in other ways with increased fees, certifications and inspections, Erickson said.

Home-rule status allows a village or city to enact laws that are not bound by the Illinois municipal code. Home-rule status also would allow the village to create rental housing regulations, enter into multiyear contracts, create debt flexibility, designate new revenue streams and adopt other police personnel procedures that differ from state statutes.

Any ordinances made possible by home-rule status would need to be passed by the village board after a chance for public comment, Sage said.

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