Endorsement: Yes for home rule in Barrington, Lake Zurich
It's hard to make a case that the state of Illinois is a better arbiter of local spending or other priorities than the people we elect right here in our communities. That's one reason we recommend residents of Barrington and Lake Zurich vote yes for home rule on Nov. 4. Home rule expands municipal powers, with most discussion and concern arising from provisions that elected boards of trustees in home-rule towns can vote to impose new taxes and fees on things ranging from liquor sales to video gambling licenses. They have broader ability to levy a local sales tax and are no longer subject to the state's property tax cap, which limits tax increases to the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less. Skeptical opponents worry they'll pay more under home rule. Some studies suggest it's common for home-rule towns to add taxes paid by nonresidents as well as residents, such as restaurant and sales taxes, to avoid raising property taxes. Yet, none of the new taxes is automatic. Each would require approval from the village board, made up of trustees who are voted into office by local residents -- and can easily be voted out. Lake Zurich officials say they have no proposals for new home-rule taxes on the table. In Barrington, village administrators say finances are in good shape. Both towns attempted to stanch residents' concerns by approving requirements that the villages will abide by the property tax cap even if home rule is approved. That important step adds weight to the argument for home rule status and the flexibility it gives local communities. Hotel and motel taxes, for instance, can be used for any purpose by home-rule towns. Non-home-rule towns must use the money for purposes that promote hotel and motel stays, like special events. If voters in Barrington and Lake Zurich vote yes, they'll have plenty of company. Home rule is automatic for towns over 25,000 population, so many suburbs already play under those rules. Smaller towns must adopt home rule by referendum, succeeding in about half the 191 home-rule efforts in Illinois between 1970 and 2000, according to a Northern Illinois University study. If you aren't yet convinced to back home rule, consider this: voters can undo their decision. Lisle, Lombard and Villa Park were returned to non-home-rule status decades ago. Yet, faced with referendums that would undo home rule, voters in 25 out of 29 Illinois towns chose to retain it, the NIU study said. That might be one of the best arguments yet. In most towns that tried home rule, voters liked it. We recommend Barrington and Lake Zurich residents vote yes on home rule on Nov. 4.