PRINCETON — Princeton voters wanted to know about home rule's impact on local schools, utility rates and ethical safeguards when it was their turn to speak at Tuesday's forum on home rule.
About 150 people attended Tuesday night's forum hosted by the Bureau County Republican and held at the Bureau County Metro Center. Panelists were James Banovetz, Doug Williams and Jerry Neumann,
Following introductions by BCR Publisher and forum moderator Sam Fisher and opening statements by the panel members, the audience had the next 45 minutes to make comments and ask questions of the panel.
In the first question of the evening, Larry Smith wanted to know what bearing home rule would have on the local school districts. Banovetz said there would be very little to no impact. Schools are completely separate entities with its own powers and taxing abilities. However, a city council may use home rule to help a school district with a capital construction project, he said.
Constraints on city council
Princeton resident Ray Crawford asked what options the community would have to put brakes on the city council if it wanted to do something the residents didn't want.
Banovetz said there are constraints on the council from misusing home rule. Giving an example from the city of Lisle, Banovetz said the city council decided to build a new city hall, which the residents opposed through an advisory referendum. However, the council decided to go ahead with the project. The voters circulated petitions and threw out home rule in 1977. Communities unhappy with home rule can go through the legal process to rescind home rule. Voters can also "throw the characters out of elected office," Banovetz said.
Culture of governments
When asked about the cons to home rule, Williams said the issue of home rule typically boils down to taxes. Voters have to look at the "culture of governments" in a community, what has been the history on how the council has handled finances, and if there has been any abuse to the council's powers. Council members know their friends and neighbors won't stand for abuse of power, he said. It's been his experience, serving as a city manager in communities of 12,000 and less populations, that the councils have been fiscally conservative.
Code of ethics
Another audience member questioned whether a conflict of interest policy would help control home rule?
In response, Williams said his community developed a code of ethics for the council. However, with the exception of debt, a current city council cannot bind future councils, whether the community is a home rule community or not.
However, any violation of a code of ethics would ring a loud bell with the local media, Banovetz added.
When asked about home rule communities not being eligible for as many grants as non-home rule communities, Williams said there is no difference between home rule and non-home rule. Home rule communities do have greater freedom in negotiating contracts and making faster decisions. Home rule communities can also impose impact fees on developers for impact on streets, parks, etc., he said.
Stabilizing utility rates
Resident Kay Wallace asked Neumann how home rule could help stabilize the city's utility rates, as proposed by the home rule supporters.
Neumann said the city could get additional revenue sources, other than increased utility rates, through home rule to pay for utility infrastructure projects.
Following closing remarks from the panel, BCR Publisher and forum moderator Sam Fisher thanked the crowd for coming, urged them to continue to become informed about home rule and to go to the polls on March 20.
As they were leaving the forum, one Princeton woman said the forum helped make up her mind in favor of home rule. Another person said he was still voting no.
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Read more: 150 attend home rule forum
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