While the village of North Riverside is still battling in the courts to try to find a solution to its ongoing firefighter pension problems, officials say they’ve found a solution to their equally troublesome police pension obligations.
A red-light camera.
The village’s 2014-15 appropriations ordinance, passed in July, indicates the village must pay a little less than $1.1 million to meet its police pension obligation. Based on revenues from the new red-light camera at Cermak Road and Harlem Avenue, the village ought to be able to hit that number.
Through the first five months of the camera’s operation, from May 1 to Sept. 30, the village issued 23,839 red-light violation tickets and has collected $586,527. The village’s red-light camera vendor, SafeSpeed, collected $386,460 as its share of the revenues. The village and vendor split the revenues from the $100 tickets on a roughly 60-40 basis.
True to form, the overwhelming majority of tickets issued during the first five months — 22,987 or 96 percent— were for right-turn-on-red violations. Another 898 were issued for left turn violations. Just 215 tickets — a shade less than 1 percent — were issued to drivers in the through-lanes on southbound Harlem Avenue.
While a large percentage of people issued red-light tickets still have not paid their fines, the village ought to be able to clear the $1.1 million necessary to cover the police pension obligation, officials believe.
However, any Illinois residents expecting income tax refunds from the state will have any outstanding red-light camera fines deducted from the refund amount next spring.
Based on the first five months of the Harlem and Cermak camera’s operation, North Riverside might expect more than $2 million in fine revenue coming its way by the end of April 2015, if all offenders actually paid their fines.
“We have a lot of unpaid tickets,” said North Riverside Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti.
During a recap last month of the first six months of the fiscal year, Scarpiniti projected revenue of about $930,000 from the red-light camera, a figure she admitted was conservative.
That number was kept lower, she said, because red-light violations tend to drop after a period of time as drivers become aware of the camera’s presence.
“We anticipate that the number of tickets will start to decrease at some point,” Scarpiniti said.
But that number also doesn’t take into account a potential second red-light camera at that intersection, on eastbound Cermak Road at Harlem Avenue. The village board has already given the go-ahead for that camera, but it is still going through the Illinois Department of Transportation permitting process.
So, revenues could also be much higher than current projections if that camera becomes a reality. North Riverside has just one red-light camera currently in operation in the village.
Using a prior vendor, the village had cameras at 26th Street and Harlem Avenue, 26th Street and First Avenue and Cermak Road and 17th Avenue. Those cameras were removed early this year when the village dropped that vendor in favor of SafeSpeed.
While the red-light camera has allowed the village to identify a source of revenue to pay its police pension obligation, officials are still looking with trepidation into the village’s financial future.
Last month at a meeting of the village board’s finance committee, Scarpiniti estimated — even with the new red-light camera revenue — that North Riverside would end the 2014-15 fiscal year with a general operating fund deficit of almost $770,000.
However, that number was calculated before a fire shut down Carson Pirie Scott at the North Riverside Park Mall for the entire holiday shopping season. Scarpiniti said she is working to recalculate her sales tax revenue estimates based on that closure.
In addition, the numbers presented to the finance committee last month included revenue projections for the Recreation Department that officials now believe were accidentally inflated.
Scarpiniti said she will have new projections for the finance committee by late December.
The projected general fund deficit also assumes the status quo with respect to fire department funding. The village is hoping to privatize the department in order to save money on its future fire pension obligations.
But that move has bogged down in court, and it’s unknown when the village might be able to go ahead with the idea.