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 gasoline tax (projected to be around $850,000 in 2018) and the natural gas tax for non-Nicor users (exact number unknown, perhaps $100,000-$150,000). That’s less than $1 million out of a $137 million budget (<1%). Given the amounts of money the City is throwing at Shodeen or related to Shodeen (over $3 million in property purchases, plus the cost of demolition, temporary parking lot construction, and other parking garage giveaways, and the $16 million GO bonds due to be issued for Shodeen), the gas tax money can surely be made up somewhere, or unnecessary spending cut. 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. Were home rule to be removed, the City’s property tax levy could increase no greater than the cost of inflation (CPI–Consumer Price Index) or 5%, whichever is less (though taxes for bond debt have no cap).
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, though whether it will be required is uncertain at this point), 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, and serves many Batavia residents. Besides, most of the tax and fee increases over the last couple of years, while under home rule, have been to residents (e.g., water, sewer, leaf and brush pickup, electricity, property tax–all hit residents exclusively; gasoline, sales, and liquor taxes hit residents and non-residents).
But hasn’t the City been acting responsibly? Yes and no. They have been keeping property taxes down while raising taxes and fees in more hidden ways through various sources. Their budget continues to increase, especially in the last 2 years. Since 2013, when many on the City Council were replaced, there have been some positive changes, but there can still be more, and there have been some negatives. Consultants have been hired for projects that have been unnecessary (e.g., Stormwater Utility Feasibility Study, a.k.a., a “Rain Tax”, rebranding, numerous studies connected to the downtown apartments project, and the Prairie State contract review—$280,000 for just that one!). Salaries have risen faster than inflation. When it comes to the massive Shodeen 194-unit apartments project scheduled for downtown, the Council has stopped listening to citizens’ concerns and has spent money like water. They’re selling Shodeen 3/4 of a downtown block for $10. They’re spending money they don’t have, debating which funds to raid in order to loan money to the TIF Districts that are millions of dollars in debt–the TIFs that already take property taxes from the other taxing bodies (schools, parks, library, etc.) and turn the money inward to benefit a few.
When you have unlimited resources at your disposal in terms of new taxes and unlimited borrowing that home rule gives you, where’s the incentive to save and prioritize and to say no to the many shiny baubles clamoring for your attention?