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Activist attempts Batavia referendum again

Keppel seeks to strip city of home-rule powers

BATAVIA – A critic of the Batavia city government is making a second attempt to put a referendum question on the ballot designed to revoke the city’s home-rule powers.

Sylvia Keppel of Batavians for a Responsible Government has launched a petition drive to place the initiative before voters in the Nov. 6 election.

About 18 months ago, Keppel and her group filed petitions to get the question on the ballot, but the Batavia Electoral Board upheld an objection to the filing because the number of signatures submitted was clearly insufficient.

Batavia automatically gained home-rule powers in 2009, when the city’s population reached 25,000. Home-rule communities in Illinois have additional taxing and bonding power, without having to resort to public referendum questions.

In Batavia, the city has used its home-rule powers to impose local sales tax increases and taxes on the sale of gasoline and alcoholic beverages.

“Home-rule gives us the authority to self-govern,” 3rd Ward Alderman Dan Chanzit said.

Keppel argues that home-rule gives the city government too much power without citizen oversight. She is a vocal opponent of the controversial One Washington Place project and a critic of the city’s use of tax-increment financing districts.

The petitions must be filed by Aug. 6, Keppel said, and the goal is to gather 1,200 signatures, in order to provide a cushion against an anticipated petition challenge.

Last time, Keppel filed a petition with 381 signatures, half the 764 needed, under a state law requiring 8 percent of the number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election.

Former city administrator Bill McGrath filed the objection to the petition. The Batavia Electoral Board upheld the objection and the question did not appear on the ballot. Without the objection, the referendum would have gone forward.

Keppel declined to say how many signatures have been obtained so far for the new effort, but said volunteers are going door-to-door and soliciting support at public places.

If the referendum fails at the ballot box, the question may not be brought back before voters for another four years, Keppel said.

“We’ve got to make a good effort,” Keppel said.

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