Columbia OKs home rule question

The Columbia City Council voted to approve its first resolution of the year Tuesday night. 

The action will give voters a chance to decide whether or not the city should become a “home rule” municipality by formally presenting the question as a referendum on the April ballot.

Currently, Columbia government may only act within a framework described in the Illinois Compiled Statutes, which are created by the General Assembly. 

The topic had been discussed at several previous meetings by Columbia City Administrator Doug Brimm. He believes home rule would allow the city to find “local solutions to local problems.” 

Home rule is not without detractors, though. The greater freedom in taxation and other areas makes the system prone to abuse. 

Before the council voted on the matter, Ron Dietrich of the Illinois Realtors Association spoke during the public input portion of the meeting to advise caution before considering the matter. 

While he acknowledged Brimm’s comments on the issue have “largely been factual,” he pointed out several instances where the system has been misused, such as Granite City. 

Dietrich added that Columbia – which currently has a fiscally conservative government – becoming a home rule unit would “unravel Pandora’s Box” for future elected officials through  unlimited borrowing allowances and no cap on city tax rates.

While he conceded the concept has worked well some places – Marion and O’Fallon specifically – he concluded by urging the council to wait until closer to the submission deadline in two weeks to process the referendum with the Monroe County Clerk’s Office. 

Brimm acknowledged some of Dietrich’s points as they relate to Columbia but pointed out that many of the instances could be addressed by the city through ordinances and resolutions which would be binding for the current and future city councils.

Ward IV Alderman Steve Holtkamp clarified – and Brimm confirmed – that becoming a home rule unit does not necessarily mean a change in the way the city government operates, rather, it just opens up more options for the city for a range of issues.

For example, Brimm said the council could create self-imposed debt cap limits and other binding regulations to prevent the abuse of taxing liberties afforded by home rule status.

Brimm continued by explaining there will be a public information campaign to give Columbia residents the facts of what home rule would entail.

The first step will be to establish a web page which would specifically discuss home rule as it relates to Columbia. 

Brimm also said a town hall public informational meeting will be held in mid-February with the time and location to be determined.

The council voted unanimously to submit the referendum question for consideration this April. 

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Scott Woodsmall

HTC web