McNamara reflects on home rule defeat, talks Rockford’s future

Tuesday night’s defeat of home rule was a bitter pill to swallow for Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara, but he says, there’s still plenty for the city to be excited about moving forward.

After months of campaigning and community meetings, Rockford voters returned a no vote on bringing home rule authority back to Rockford. The referendum to give city leaders more power in how they govern failed by roughly 1,800 votes.

McNamara, who was one of the movement’s biggest advocates, tells 13 WREX he is disappointed the measure failed but he was proud of the way the campaign was run.

"12 years ago we couldn’t even get home rule on the ballot," McNamara said. "We not only got it on the ballot, we got 12 of 14 aldermen to support it. We got every single major organization but one in our entire community to support it."

Of the 86 voting precincts in Rockford, 57 voted against the referendum and only 28 voted in favor, with one tie. The northeast side of Rockford was the only area of the city where the proposition fared well.  McNamara said he hasn’t had a chance to dig deeper into the voting data and can’t explain why the vote went the way it did.

"I’m not 100% sure yet," McNamara said. "Obviously it’s not the same way we did our own campaign when I ran. I would say the biggest difference is I work 60-70 hours a week here and I can’t dedicate all of that time to another campaign outside of my day job."

McNamara did say he plans to take a closer look at the voting data over the next week and is unsure whether he will take another shot at home rule in two years when state statute allows the referendum to go back on the ballot.

"Home rule is a complex subject and has a lot of variables and also it is very easy to run against," McNamara said. "I think it will certainly pass in the city of Rockford at some point. Will I ever do it again? I don’t know, I think it’s too early to tell.

With the home rule proposition failing, the focus now shifts back to the city’s budget. The city continues to look for new ways to make up for its nearly $4 million budget deficit.

"We have never hidden from the idea that we need new revenue as a city," McNamara said. "There is no way for our city or any other city in the state of Illinois to meet the demands of their pension obligations without additional revenue."

That additional revenue appears to be coming in the form of a new utility tax, which was proposed as part of the "Plan B’ budget presented at city council last week in the event home rule failed. This would add a new 5 percent tax on utilities like heat and electricity.

"Let me be really clear, that’s not where I want to go," McNamara said. "That’s why I did over 75 public meetings for home rule."

McNamara spoke about a citizen-lead group that gave a number of cost-saving recommendations to the city and the top two were home rule or a utility tax. McNamara says he spent so much time pushing for home rule because he believed it provided the best revenue option for the city without putting the burden on property owners in the city.

"As a mayor, as a council member, we have to make very difficult decisions," McNamara said. "We have cut, we have collaborated, we are consolidating. The next step is we do need new revenue."

McNamara said the Plan B budget does include more money for neighborhood blight reduction, a property tax decrease, as well as a plan to hire more police officers, which would put the department over 300 officers for the first time in more than a decade.

A vote on the Plan B budget is expected to come at the city council meeting on Monday, March 26.

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