Ballot questions highlight needs, future stability in our towns


The commentary below represents the ideas, observations and opinions of the author.

Until late last year, Heather Hill Crescent, the main drag through my Flossmoor neighborhood, was a mess.
It’s a street that runs on the west end of my part of town. I drive on it nearly every day. For years it was cratered with broken asphalt that made most rides a bumpy experience. From an aesthetic standpoint, it looked bad and reflected poorly on our neighborhood of well-built homes.
  Tom Houlihan
But no more. Around Thanksgiving, crews repaved Heather Hill Crescent and the road now looks as smooth as silk. It’s a pleasure to drive or walk along the street. I am grateful that Flossmoor’s elected and appointed officials chose three-quarters of a mile of my neighborhood for the village’s main road renovation project last year.
Here’s why I am pointing this out. It’s a good example of what local government can do to make life better in a specific part of town. At the same time, I know that there are many other streets in Flossmoor that need to be resurfaced — the village has listed infrastructure improvements as a top priority for the next few years. In 2017, Flossmoor spent $240,467 on Heather Hill Crescent and two smaller streets. That’s all the money that was available.
In March, Homewood and Flossmoor residents are being asked to approve referendum initiatives designed to make local government operate more efficiently. The H-F Chronicle is not making endorsements on either of these ballot issues. We have done our best to cover the ballot questions in both towns, and will do so until election day on March 20. 
As a Flossmoor resident, though, I can tell you that I plan to vote for a 1 percent sales tax increase in the village. As a co-proprietor of the Chronicle, I am not going to tell anyone else how they should vote. All I’m asking is that you take part in this election, which is important for both communities.
And remember — these are two different referendum questions. Flossmoor is asking for a non-home rule hike in its sales tax, which would add another penny collected for every dollar spent on items other than groceries or prescriptions. Homewood is asking for home rule authority, which would expand municipal powers on several levels.
However, it is safe to say that both ballot initiatives start with the premise that more needs to be done in the future so that our towns remain stable communities. Also, that the mayhem on the state level in recent years has led to the realization that Illinois is no longer a reliable partner for local municipalities. Our towns are taking steps so that they can have greater control over their own destinies.
Let me provide a brief recap of both referendum issues.
If approved, the Flossmoor sales tax increase would add about $550,000 in village revenues. According to village officials, that amount will just about cover an anticipated $560,000 deficit in the current municipal budget.
I covered Flossmoor’s village government for the last three years and I know that this is an extremely conservative town when it comes to fiscal management. I also know that the village has encountered a number of hard financial challenges in recent years. Aging infrastructure — streets, sidewalks, sewers, the water system — is in need of expensive repairs. State-mandated pensions for police and fire are going up. Housing values fell sharply after the 2008 recession, drastically lowering the community’s tax base. The state is cutting back on the share of income taxes that municipalities have received for decades, and which is an important revenue source in Flossmoor’s budget.
Most sales taxes in Flossmoor come from the village’s Meijer store, which opened in 2016. Village officials point out that most shoppers at the store are not Flossmoor residents. Projections show that the store has a customer base of 50,000 households. Flossmoor only has 4,000 households, which means that more than 90 percent of Meijer customers — who would be paying the bulk of the tax increase — are not village residents.
If approved, Homewood’s home rule authority would give the village greater ability to increase taxes and fees, as well as taking on more debt than it can do as a non-home rule community. Opponents of home rule in Homewood say they are against the initiative because it is likely to lead to higher taxes, especially when new village officials are elected in the years to come.
Homewood officials, however, say that taxes will not be increased for village services if home rule is approved. The village board has already taken steps to limit its powers if home rule goes into effect. It approved three ordinances in December: to keep property tax increases to the Consumer Price Index or 5 percent, whichever is lower; to give a seven-day notice to residents before any vote on a tax increase and to require a supermajority vote of trustees; and to limit the amount of debt the village can incur to the same levels it holds as a non-home rule community.
Home rule is important for three main reasons, village officials say.
It would allow Homewood to deviate from state-imposed hiring procedures, especially for police and fire personnel. Currently, the village must pay training costs and salary for police and fire candidates. The training process is long and expensive and, when it’s finished, new personnel have left for positions in other communities. Homewood has the added expense of paying overtime to meet the necessary staffing needs.
Home rule will also give the village greater ability to inspect rental property, especially single family homes. In recent years, the number of homes being rented has increased significantly. Last year, according to water billing records, there were 448 homes classified as rentals. In 2016, housing code violations were reported at 25 percent of all rental homes.
Finally, Homewood plans to add a 0.25 percent sales tax, which is expected to generate $1 million in revenue that will be split between other governmental units in the village — schools, the park district and the library. Under an agreement between the village and the other governmental units, 70 percent of this sales tax money will go to Homewood School District 153.
More information on the two referendum proposals is available at the village websites — and
Again, I am just asking you to vote on March 20.
But I’d also like to think my community has the wherewithal to fix the streets in other parts of town. Everyone should have the chance to ride on roads that are as smooth as silk.

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A great community deserves a great newspaper. The HF Chronicle was created in June 2014 as an online publication. In December 2015 we began monthly print publication, too. Our mission is to chronicle the life of our community — news by, for, and about the people of Homewood and Flossmoor, Illinois.


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