Geneva thinking about home-rule issue again

Updated 4/1/2014 11:58 PM

Geneva aldermen are tentatively wading back into the issue of whether the city should seek home-rule power.

The city council Monday agreed to review a 2006 report on the matter since only four of the current aldermen were on the council eight years ago.


Deciding whether to seek home-rule authority is one of the goals the council set for itself for fiscal year 2015, which begins May 1.

Alderman Mike Bruno said the goal is to "educate" residents on home rule. "It's not a forgone 'Let's pursue this,' " he said.

Towns with home-rule powers have greater ability to do certain things, including regulate rental housing.

Home rule is perhaps best known for the taxing ability it gives. Home-rule communities can raise property taxes without limitation under the state's tax-cap law. They can levy hotel, motel and gasoline taxes; raise the sales tax rate on general merchandise other than vehicles; impose taxes on the sale of liquor and restaurant meals; and can borrow money to be repaid with property taxes without seeking voters' approval.

Batavia received home-rule status in 2009 when its population exceeded 25,000. It raised its sales tax last month, used home-rule authority to start a rental housing licensing and inspection program, and instituted a 1-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax.

If Geneva wants home rule, it would have to hold a referendum. Its 2010 population was 21,495, and city planners don't expect it to exceed 25,000 at its most developed.

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The 2006 report was developed by a 12-person ad hoc committee of residents, city staff members and aldermen, appointed by Mayor Kevin Burns. It voted against recommending a referendum, with five members opposing home rule, five members supporting home rule if the city could prove a compelling need for it, and two supporting home rule overall.

Alderman Craig Maladra, co-chairman of that 2006 committee, said the committee couldn't convince people the city wasn't just looking to grab more money.

"You can educate until you are blue in the face," he said Monday, but it won't help when facing "willful ignorance."

Burns and City Administrator Mary McKittrick spoke about the status of legislation that would create a lesser version of home rule, giving all towns home-rule regulatory powers, but not the revenue-raising capabilities.

The Metro West Council of Governments, to which Geneva belongs, supports the legislation, as does the Illinois Municipal League.

The council said it will discuss the matter again April 28.

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