More Illinois cities, including Freeport in line to lose taxing abilities due to population losses

ILLINOIS — As Illinois nears the 2020 Census, several of its cities are losing enough people that they’re likely to lose the broad taxing and borrowing powers that come with having more than 25,000 people.

U.S. Census numbers released Thursday show suburban Melrose Park fell below 25,000. That’s the threshold for automatic home-rule status. Freeport, Collinsville and Harvey fell below the threshold in 2017 and have each seen their populations dip even further since then.

The Illinois Constitution grants cities with home-rule status broad taxing and borrowing abilities where a non-home rule town must often go to voters to approve the same measures if they’re able to at all. Most home-rule cities in Illinois have that status by virtue of population alone.

“The most immediate shock for a lot of places could be the loss of taxing power,” Citizen Advocacy Center attorney Ben Silver said. “It looks like a good number of municipalities are going to be right around that threshold after the 2020 Census.”

The next year’s population counts will be watched closely by city officials in Kankakee, Carbondale and Belvidere. All three are close to falling below the triggering population point, which could force them to either relinquish their home-rule status or ask voters in either 2021 or 2022 to maintain the same taxing and borrowing ability.

Opponents of home-rule status say it provides local officials autonomy to raise taxes, fees and borrow without as much accountability to residents as a non-home rule unit of government would.

“City leaders are probably going to have to do a much better job, or it will take a much longer time to do the job, to craft a budget,” said Jon Broadbooks, spokesman for Illinois Realtors, a group that has fought a number of attempts for towns below the 25,000-resident threshold to become home-rule. “There are elements where they are going to have to go directly to the taxpayers to ask permission.”

The city of Edwardsville also fell below the population threshold, but voters there approved of the measure by ballot referendum in 2012.

The population losses in the Census are spread far and wide across the state, which lost an estimated 45,000 people in the same 12 months ending last July.

Danville’s population fell by 469, a 1.5 percent drop and the largest decrease of any of Illinois’ larger cities. Some 1,040 cities and villages in Illinois saw population declines, while 171 saw at least one more person living there than in 2017.

Suburban South Elgin had the largest year-over-year population increase in the state, gaining 959

Geography Cen 2010 Est 2017 Est 2018 Change percent change 2010 change percent change
Freeport city, Illinois 25638 24057 23920 -137 -0.57% -1,718 -6.70%

See other Illinois cities here.

By Cole Lauterbach | The Center Square

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