SAVOY – Larger towns in Illinois with more than 25,000 people have home rule powers automatically granted to them under the state constitution. Smaller towns have to ask voters for permission. And that’s what’s happening with the April 6 election in Savoy, just south of Champaign.
Home rule powers allow a city or village government to levy taxes or pass regulations they otherwise would need voter approval to do, or couldn’t do at all. Realtors groups say that usually leads to higher property taxes, and are campaigning against the home rule referendum in Savoy.
Retired engineer Joe Pisula, who’s campaigning for home rule with the group Savoy Citizens for Home Rule, says property taxes could actually rise less, if Savoy could enact a gasoline tax, which can only be done under home rule.
“That would generate significant amounts of money to fix streets and repair them properly, and not have to raise property taxes, or at least put less pressure on the village to raise property taxes,” said Pisula.
Pisula says gas prices in towns that have enacted gasoline taxes are about the same as prices in Savoy, which he says is evidence that the taxes do not drive up gas prices.. He adds that the revenue raised by a gas tax might also help Savoy pay its share of the cost of building a long-sought railroad viaduct for Curtis Road. Pisula says a viaduct would ensure that fire engines and other emergency vehicles racing to reach the east side of Savoy would not have to wait for a train, or take a long detour when one comes by.
But Realtors groups are not buying the argument. Flyers opposing the home rule referendum have been mailed out to residents of Savoy. One such flyer is attributed to Realtors in Opposition to Home Rule, a group using the Savoy mailing address of the Champaign County Association of Realtors.
“Home Rule lets the Savoy Village Government raise property taxes without voter approval, with no limits,” the flyer states. “The Savoy Village Board could incur unconstrained debt, which is a cost you’ll pay.”
Collin Cisco with the statewide group Illinois Realtors is in charge of local governmental affairs for Realtors groups in central Illinois, including the CCAR. He says even if voters trust Savoy’s current leaders with home rule, they can’t be sure about who comes after them.
“Sure, Savoy’s current city leaders could use home rule responsibly,” said Cisco. “But there’s also no guarantee that the future leaders will be using the home rule responsibly. So that’s the problem.”
Pisula says he believes Savoy village officials would use home rule responsibly.
“We have six board members, and you have to have a majority, a four to two vote, to get it passed,” said Pisula of any tax measure being considered under home rule. “And then you have the hurdle of overriding the mayor’s veto, if he or she sees that is not a responsible project. You also have an administrator and a public works director, who’s hopefully going to be those checks and balances to make sure things are done properly.”
The Illinois Municipal League counts 217 cities and villages in the state that already have home rule. In east central Illinois, larger home rule cities include Champaign, Urbana, Danville, Bloomington and Normal. Smaller villages with home rule include Rantoul in Champaign County, Tilton in Vermilion County, Tuscola in Douglas County and Watseka, Onarga and Gilman in Iroquois County.