What is “home rule” and what does it have to do with Batavia? Why is there a referendum for it?
Ballot question: Shall the City of Batavia cease to be a home rule unit?
Right now, Batavia is a “home rule” community by virtue of having at least 25,000 residents. Home rule gives the City nearly unlimited power to tax, regulate, and incur debt. Home rule can be removed (and also reinstated) by referendum.
Home rule takes away state-imposed tax caps, allowing the City to raise property taxes without limit and without asking citizens via referendum.
It allows the City to create almost as many new taxes as it can imagine: sales tax, gasoline tax, liquor tax, soda tax, hotel tax, service tax, transfer tax, use tax, etc. It allows for the creation of a Stormwater Utility (“Rain Tax”) without referendum, which would charge residents (including tax-exempt properties like churches and schools) fees based on impermeable surface area (buildings, driveways, parking lots, etc.). (The creation of a Stormwater Utility in Batavia was strongly supported by 3 aldermen as recently as the August 28, 2018 meeting of the Batavia City Council Committee of the Whole, while the other aldermen remained silent. It is not off the table.)
It gives the City power to regulate things like inspections (and accompanying fees) on apartment buildings, even small, converted homes, and can prevent the sale of “as-is” properties.
Home rule takes away the citizens’ power to put major bonding issues to referendum (like the $16 million in General Obligation bonds the City plans to issue for a massive 6-story, 194-unit Shodeen apartment complex it plans to build downtown at Wilson and Washington/Rt 25). With home rule, the City Council can borrow and spend at will (anything short of 40 yr bonds), and the citizens CANNOT put the issue to referendum to stop it.
The City will argue home rule is beneficial in that it gives them more flexibility and autonomy in finance and government.
Others of us argue that it gives local government too much power without citizen oversight or recourse.
Now it is up to the voters of Batavia to decide.
Here are some links for more information on home rule:
http://www.taxpayersunitedofamerica.org/home-rule There are multiple articles on this site if you type “home rule” into their Search box.
And we have a “Common Questions” page here