Will it hurt the City? As far as has been able to be determined, using information from the City Finance Director, the only taxes currently in effect that we may lose (and can’t be converted to non-home rule) are the gas tax (around $380,000 in 2016) and the natural gas tax for non-Nicor users (around $120,000 when the tax went from non-home rule to home rule, latest value not given). Given the amounts of money the City is throwing at Shodeen or related to Shodeen (over $2 million in new property purchases and as yet untold amounts for demolition and temporary parking lot construction, plus the Baptist church and parking garage giveaways), the gas tax money can surely be made up somewhere, or unnecessary spending cut out. And citizens can always vote themselves a property tax increase by referendum if they think it is necessary and the City has been using the funds entrusted to them responsibly.
Won’t it raise my property taxes? Getting rid of home rule will actually cap property tax increases. Right now there is no limit to increases, though the City has not resorted to many property tax increases (but there’s a $300,000 increase for 2017).
Will it put more burden on residents and take away taxing opportunities for non-residents? The sales taxes can stay at current levels of 1% (half that may have to be reinstated by referendum, but the Finance Director is not certain and there’s conflicting information from other cities), but sales taxes can’t be increased past that. Remember that sales taxes hit both residents and non-residents. It would be a different story if Batavia had a big mall like the Chicago Premium Outlets Mall in Aurora that would draw people from miles around and that we could take advantage of, but Batavia is mostly built out and there is no room for a mall. Randall has a more limited outside draw, serving many residents. Besides, most of the tax and fee increases over the last couple of years, under home rule, have been to residents (e.g., water, sewer, leaf and brush pickup, electricity, property tax–all hit residents exclusively; gas and liquor taxes hit residents and non-residents).
But hasn’t the City been acting responsibly? Yes and no. They have been keeping down property taxes while raising taxes and fees in more hidden ways through the many various sources. Since 2013, when many on the City Council were replaced, there has been no more crazy spending on things like arches on River Street. Houston St. was finished sensibly. But they have been sorely neglecting the sewer infrastructure. They have been spending tens of thousands of dollars per consultant for things like a Stormwater Utility Feasibility Study. Salaries have risen faster than inflation. When it comes to the Shodeen project, they have stopped listening to citizens’ concerns and are treating the project as a foregone conclusion. They’re now spending money they don’t have, debating which fund to raid to loan money to one of the many TIFs that keep property taxes from the other taxing bodies like schools, parks, library, county, and turn the money inward to benefit a few. They seem surprised when they’re told there’s no money for their property purchases or for finishing the streetscape planned for Rt. 31. And they have yet to address the looming exit of 2 of our biggest electricity users and the potential impact that will have. Granted, there’s a lot on their plate, with problems created by years of mismanagement not of their making (not of this present Council), but personal opinion is they need to start realistically addressing some of these major issues and stop worrying about things like branding and hiring a Communications Coordinator and giving away the bank to Shodeen, all of which take money from the essential roles government should have of police and fire protection, roads and sewers, infrastructure to deliver water and electricity, keeping people safe. But when you have unlimited resources at your disposal in terms of new taxes and unlimited borrowing that home rule gives you, where’s the impetus to save and prioritize and to say no to the many shiny baubles clamoring for your attention?