Could Prospect Heights seek home rule in November election?

Updated 7/13/2018 3:45 PM

Momentum is shifting in Prospect Heights toward putting a home-rule referendum on the November election ballot.

Initially, city council members seemed leery about asking voters this fall for permission to become a home-rule municipality over concerns it would be too soon. They wanted more time to launch an educational campaign in hopes of passing the proposal after three previous attempts failed.

That thinking appears to be changing.

"I don't think that November is too fast because home rule -- it's not like nuclear physics or something like that," Alderman Patrick Ludvigsen said. "It's a very simple set of parameters of what we can do and what we can't do as a municipality."

A majority of the city council supports, or at least doesn't oppose, aiming for a referendum in November.

The city is under a quick deadline, however. City council members must pass a resolution by Aug. 20 to put the referendum on the ballot.

Under state law, any community with 25,000 or fewer residents is not automatically a home-rule municipality. The city's population was estimated at 16,180 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The classification would allow the city to tap into hotel tax dollars, which currently are returned to hotels and motels, and other revenue sources. City officials estimate that Prospect Heights misses out on an estimated $750,000 for paving streets, improving drainage, hiring more police officers and other services.

Home-rule classification also would allow the city to impose a general property tax. Fear of that tax has stymied previous efforts to obtain home rule.

City leaders say they don't have plans to impose a property tax if home rule is approved.

"This whispering, 'Oh, they just want to raise taxes,' is simply not true," Mayor Nick Helmer said.

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