Expected population loss in Freeport could mean loss of Home Rule, leading to increased property taxes

Freeport (WREX) – For decades Freeport has been a self-governing city.

“If you have a population of 25,000 or more, you automatically benefit from Home Rule,” explains Randy Bukas, director of Freeport City. “Unless, as in the case of Rockford, the voters choose not to have it.”

Bukas says Home Rule gives the city the power to act independently of the state on a number of issues. Things like how they deal with nuisance complaints, setting the number of aldermen on city council, or the power of the chief of police to handle the dismissal of probation officers.

“There are rules and regulations you can make and pass that don’t have to follow state laws.”

But Freeport risks losing Home Rule due to an expected population decline. Although official census data is not yet back, the first numbers do not look good.

“In 2010 we were at 25,628 and the preliminary numbers we get from the Census Bureau or the American Community Survey say we’re at around 24,800, some say 24,400,” Bukas explains.

Falling below 25,000 would wipe out Home Rule and potentially mean a blow to homeowners and their portfolios.

“Right now, we collect around $ 3.6 million in door-to-door sales tax,” says Bukas. “Our property tax is only $ 2.4 million, so you can imagine that if you think your property taxes are high now and we need to make up for this lost revenue, your property tax will double.”

Bukas says home sales tax accounts for about 18% of the city’s budget. He says it’s not just a concern for property tax bills, but also for essential municipal services.

“If we lose it, the next question is which fire station are you closing? How many police are you laying off? It is very important that we maintain Home Rule.”

Official census data will not be released until September. Bukas says if the city loses Home Rule, it could be reinstated by voters approving it in a referendum. The earliest possible would be the November 2022 elections.

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