Batavians seek referendum to take away city's home-rule power

 
 
Updated 8/6/2018 7:13 PM
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  • Sylvia Keppel of Batavia, left, explains to city administrative assistant Karen Morley an affidavit she submitted Monday along with a petition for a referendum question to remove the city's home-rule authority.

      Sylvia Keppel of Batavia, left, explains to city administrative assistant Karen Morley an affidavit she submitted Monday along with a petition for a referendum question to remove the city's home-rule authority. Susan Sarkauskas | Staff Photographer

Batavia residents will get to decide in November whether the city keeps its home-rule powers after members of Batavians for Responsible Government submitted petitions Monday for a referendum question.

The petitions contained 1,195 signatures, according to Yvonne Dinwiddie, one of the petition circulators. The group had been told by city officials it needed at least 764, when it unsuccessfully tried for a referendum in 2017, said Sylvia Keppel, founder of the group.

The question asks, "Shall the City of Batavia cease to be a home rule unit?"

Dinwiddie said about 10 people circulated the petitions. She, her husband, Carl, and Keppel circulated most. All three have criticized some things Batavia has done since it automatically obtained home-rule authority in 2011 when the population grew past 25,000.

"I'm always trying to give voters the opportunity to decide what they want," Yvonne Dinwiddie said.

Alderman Dan Chanzit, who supports retaining home rule, signed the petition. He said he did so Sunday afternoon mostly as a congratulatory gesture, once he knew there were already enough signatures to get it on the ballot.

"I guess I'm not afraid of how they are going to vote," he said.

He described home rule as an important tool for aldermen but said if people aren't happy with how it's used, they should "fire" their aldermen.

Home-rule municipalities have greater powers, including the ability to create taxes. Towns without home-rule powers can only do what state law specifically allows.

For example, both can levy a hotel/motel sales tax. But home-rule units can spend that money on anything, while non-home-rule units can spend it on only activities and items meant to increase tourism.

Home-rule towns can impose sales and other taxes, and can increase the local sales tax without limit. Non-home-rule towns have to seek voters' permission for sales taxes, and are limited to 1 percent.

Batavia has instituted a gasoline tax, now 4 cents per gallon, and a 2 percent liquor tax. If it lost its home-rule status, it could not charge those, city officials said.

Batavia also increased its property taxes above the rate of inflation, without having a referendum.

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