ROCKFORD — Transform Rockford on Wednesday announced its support for the restoration of home rule authority in Rockford as a tool to take back greater local control from a dysfunctional state government and accelerate the region’s transformation.
Transform Rockford Executive Director Mike Schablaske said that a “yes” vote for home rule March 20 is a signal that Rockford is “optimistic about our region’s future.”
“It’s about trusting ourselves,” Schablaske said.
Schablaske said the UW Sports Factory downtown was chosen as the venue for the announcement for a reason. Without home rule authority it took two years to convince legislators in Springfield to approve a 2 percent hotel tax in Winnebago County to pay for Reclaiming First, a program supported by area hotels and tourism officials to expand and improve sports facilities.
Supporters say home rule would be used to reduce the burden on property owners to pay for city services. For example, a 1 percent tax on hotel stays, restaurant checks and packaged liquor sales could raise $4.5 million a year and a $500 fee for gaming machines would generate $227,000 annually. Home rule also could be used to help the city improve blighted properties, speed condemnation proceedings of unsafe properties and create a land bank that could be used to put vacant and abandoned properties into the hands of home owners and investors, supporters say.
Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, Rockford Chamber of Commerce, Rockford Area Economic Development Council and Next Rockford are among the organizations that also have endorsed home rule.
Opponents, including the Rockford Realtors Association and its statewide organization, say home rule puts too much power into the hands of local government to raise taxes and fees without direct voter approval. And although current officials have promised to use the power to reduce the property tax burden, they fear future officials may go back on those promises, raise taxes and institute stifling property regulations.
The Realtors are joined by the Rockford Area Hotel Motel Association and Rockford Apartment Association in opposing the referendum.
The Rev. Kenneth Board of Pilgrim Baptist Church, a Transform Rockford steering committee member, said Rockford “can no longer depend on property taxes to fund all the different things city government does.”
“I hear a lot of negative comments coming forward,” Board said. “Most of those negative comments are coming from people who live outside the city of Rockford. We should not allow fear and statistics and inability to accept change to keep us from taking control of our own destiny. It’s my prayer that on Tuesday, March 20, we will take responsibility for our own present and future.”