With goals of enacting rules to better regulate landlords and rental properties, two local communities, Shiloh in St. Clair County and New Baden in Clinton County, are asking voters whether they can become home-rule. The move would allow the municipalities greater financial and statutory flexibility.
In Illinois, incorporated municipalities of more than 25,000 people, as well as Cook County, are automatically home-rule communities. Towns of less than 25,000 people can become home-rule by having voters pass a referendum. Voters in Shiloh and New Baden will see the referendum on Tuesday’s ballot.
The city council or village board of a home-rule community has the ability to increase the sales tax in a municipality without a referendum. It also would be able to use a local hotel-motel tax for other purposes instead of just promoting tourism, among other things.
Home rule communities also have more regulatory control within their borders, unless the general assembly has specifically enumerated the role to the state government.
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Officials in Shiloh and New Baden said the motivation to ask for home-rule authority is so the towns could look into putting in crime-free housing ordinances.
“We’ve had some bad experience with a couple of rental property owners,” said Jim Vernier, mayor of Shiloh.
Vernier said a crime-free housing ordinance, like those in O’Fallon and Belleville, would help the village in having property owners maintain their housing units and keep them up to code. The village has had trouble with one landlord who caused problems, such as using an extension cord to provide electricity from one unit to another.
Neighboring communities have crime-free housing ordinances.
Crime-free housing ordinances would require property owners to have a certain level of commitment from tenants to not engage in criminal activity. Sample crime-free rules even include immediate eviction if a tenant engages in criminal activity while in the rental unit.
“The idea is to increase and maintain property values,” said Shiloh Police Chief Jim Stover.
“When it comes to tenants right now, if the property owner doesn’t want to evict a tenant who is being a problem and disturbing the neighborhood, there is nothing we can do about it,” Stover added. “If they have provisions within the lease, they will be making it clear to the resident if you cause a problem, or disturb the neighborhood or disturb property, you will be evicted.”
It could also call for property owners to do background checks on tenants, Vernier said.
“It’s a much more stringent application when a community has a crime-free housing program,” Vernier said.
Even though enacting a new tax is not on the radar for Shiloh, Vernier said a food and beverage tax is something the village could consider in the future, especially if there is a cut in income tax transfers from the state. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget calls for cutting in half the amount of state income tax that is transferred back to municipalities. That cut would mean about $600,000 less in revenue for Shiloh, Vernier said.
“It’s not the reason we are seeking home-rule; that is not our goal,” Vernier said. “(But), should the village be impacted by the governor’s cuts, we can go for a food and beverage tax. We wouldn’t go any further than that.”
Vernier added that O’Fallon and Fairview Heights, both home-rule municipalities, already have a food and beverage tax, which is imposed at restaurants, or places where food is prepared and sold for immediate consumption.
Vernier said the village has not discussed raising taxes as part of home-rule authority.
New Baden Village Administrator Lyndon Joost said the village would begin having discussions with landlords and residents as to what features would be included in a crime-free housing program, if the home-rule referendum passes.
“Let’s put it out there and see if residents are in favor of it and then design a program,” Joost said.
“It’s a matter of another tool to help us and help the landlord maintain a quality of living in those units,” Joost added.
Joost said the village is below caps on property taxes, and increasing revenue through new taxes is not something that has been part of the discussion.
There is proposed legislation in the General Assembly that would grant non-home rule municipalities some of the same powers as home-rule municipalities. However, the legislation has been re-referred to the Rules Committee in the house.
“So it looks like (the bill) has gone where all bills go to die, and thus the only option for New Baden and Shiloh to currently acquire home-rule status is via their local referendums,” Joost said in an email.
Shiloh and New Baden are among four communities in the state asking for home-rule authority. Taxpayers United of America has come out against the propositions and urged voters to reject the idea.
“Home rule always means higher taxes because it removes the cap limiting the amount that bureaucrats can increase property taxes,” said Jim Tobin, president of TUA. “It gives bureaucrats a blank check, and how many government bureaucrats would you trust with a blank check bearing your signature?”
The organization added that governments need to live within their means.
“Eighty percent of home-rule and other local taxes go to pay government employees and their benefits,” Tobin said. “By adding new taxes, government bureaucrats ensure their own high pay and lavish pensions.”