Pro-home-rule campaign underway in Batavia
Jim Fahrenbach says life got better in his former Batavia neighborhood after the city implemented a crime-free housing law that targeted nearby troublesome apartment buildings.
That law and the ability to levy fines for homes in disrepair, without having to go to court, are just two of the benefits of the city's home-rule authority, he says.
To keep the city from losing that authority, Fahrenbach is organizing a campaign urging voters to say "no" to a Nov. 6 referendum question.
He has set up a "Keep Home Rule" Facebook page, and a website, vote-no-keep-homerule.com. He's hosting a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Pal Joey's Restaurant, 2030 Main St.
And he is distributing yard signs, for which he has paid. So far, he has given out 40; another 70 are available.
Fahrenbach says discussion on Facebook and elsewhere has been full of misinformation and incorrect assumptions.
"We've pulled all these issues in to home rule that have nothing to do with home rule," Fahrenbach says.
Specifically, people's dissatisfaction with the One North Washington apartments/garage project, the increased cost of electricity because of the city's investment in the coal-fired Prairie State plant, and the now-dead proposal to put government-supported apartments in the historic Campana building, a converted factory.
He also noted that property taxes won't decrease if home-rule is eliminated.
Fahrenbach has lived in Batavia for 13 years.
Batavians for Responsible Government put the question on the ballot. State law specified the wording of the question: "Shall the City of Batavia cease to be a home-rule unit?"
So people should vote "no" to keep home rule and "yes" to get rid of it.
Municipalities and counties with home-rule authority "may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt," according to the state constitution. Non-home-rule units have only the authority granted to them by the state legislature.
Opponents of home rule argue it gives officials too much power to increase property and sales taxes, and prefer that those decisions be made via referendum. In Batavia, they point out the city used it to institute a per-gallon sales tax on gasoline, to increase the overall sales tax on general merchandise, to institute an alcoholic beverages tax, and to increase property taxes more than would have been allowed without the home-rule power. Home-rule municipalities are not subject to the state's property-tax-cap law, which limits increases generally to the rate of inflation or 5 percent, whichever is less.
Home rule gave Batavia the authority to adopt a more-stringent rental housing crime prevention law. The city's finance director has said that the property tax increases amounted to about $100,000 more than it could have collected if it had levied the maximum allowed under the state's property-tax cap law during that time period. And Fahrenbach and city officials support the gasoline, sales and liquor taxes, because they are paid by nonresidents shopping in the city, not just residents.