Libertyville to pursue home-rule designation through referendum
Facing a full plate of unfunded projects and continuing needs over the next decade, Libertyville officials plan to ask voters whether they want to designate the village a home-rule community.
Going home rule would provide the village with more flexibility to generate revenue and take other steps to fund projects and ongoing costs.
"It gives us so many more options of things we can do," said Mayor Terry Weppler. "Right now, all the towns around us are home-rule. We're one of the few that aren't."
Under home rule, officials could raise taxes or create new ones, like a local gas tax. It would also allow the village to use currently restricted funds, such as motel and hotel taxes, for purposes other than promotional activities.
The village staff has been directed to prepare the paperwork to put the question on the March 17 primary election ballot. Approval by the village board is considered a formality.
Libertyville's first comprehensive, multiyear plan for major projects was adopted in August. It outlines tens of millions of dollars in measures to prevent flooding, fix local roads and address other needs. But paying for it will be a tall order as the plan includes $45.5 million in stormwater projects alone.
Village leaders considered a fee to fund those projects, along with three potential referendum questions to generate income: a property tax increase, a non-home-rule sales tax, and home-rule status.
Officials decided to move forward with the home-rule referendum.
"When you add it all up, we're about $2.5 million short per year in maintaining our infrastructure," said Trustee Pat Carey, who supports home rule. "We know what the capital needs are. It's time to ask our residents, 'Do you agree? Should we do this?'"
Communities automatically receive home-rule status when their population reaches 25,000. For smaller towns -- Libertyville's population was about 20,500 in 2017, according to the village -- the designation can be achieved only through voter approval.
Home-rule entities can "exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs," according to the Illinois Municipal League.
"If you have home rule, you can do anything unless the state prohibits it," Weppler said.
Should voters approve home rule, the 1% "drinking and eating" sales tax, which generates about $1 million a year, would be replaced with a villagewide 1% sales tax that would produce about $3 million a year.
"We don't think it fair to double-tax the food establishments," said Village Administrator Kelly Amidei.
A key issue going forward, Amidei said, will be finding funds to finish a comprehensive plan to fix local streets. Voters approved borrowing $20 million for that purpose in 2012, but the money has been spent and only 40% of the streets done.
"Now we're looking at the other 60%, trying to figure out how to address that in the future," Carey said.
Officials agree some residents will be concerned home rule would just be a mechanism to impose more taxes. Weppler said meetings will be held to explain what home rule is and how it works.
"I think we've got a proven track record. We've been very judicious with our residents' tax dollars," he said.