During the summer of 2014, North Riverside trustees faced a tough decision when they decided to pass a budget that had a $669,000 hole in its general operating fund. But when that fiscal year ended on April 30, the general fund deficit stood at just about $30,000.

What saved the village from sliding headlong into a financial tailspin? 


Within the span of just two years, the percentage of revenue generated by fines for North Riverside’s general operating fund has skyrocketed, principally as the result of red-light cameras.

During the 2012-13 fiscal year North Riverside reported collecting $388,668 in fines. By the following year, in 2013-14, that number had jumped 70 percent to $662,210.

But that was nothing compared to what the village received in fines during 2014-15 — a whopping $2.3 million, most of that from two new red-light cameras at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road.

Although the number is still unofficial, though likely only to rise if it’s amended, the village collected about $1.7 million in red-light violations in 2014-15. That represents a full year of revenue from one of the Harlem/Cermak cameras but only four months of revenue from the second camera.

The windfall boosted fines from representing just 3 percent of North Riverside’s total operating revenues in 2012-13 to 14.4 percent in 2014-15. Red-light violation revenues are now the third-largest source of revenue for the village of North Riverside, trailing only state-shared sales taxes and the village’s non-home rule sales tax revenue.

Not only did that revenue bail out the village financially during the last fiscal year, it’s likely to keep doing so in the future.


Red-light revenues soar 

According to information received in April by the Landmark in response to a Freedom of Information request, North Riverside had issued 16,182 red-light tickets between Jan. 1 and April 29.

If tickets are issued at the same rate for the entire fiscal year, the village could expect to seek collection on about 40,400 violations. With North Riverside receiving roughly 60 percent of each $100 ticket, the village could collect $2.4 million from those two cameras alone.

But by autumn of 2015, North Riverside will also have a third red-light camera operational, at Cermak Road and 17th Avenue. While that intersection is not nearly as busy as Harlem and Cermak, it is expected to generate hundreds of thousands more.

Police Chief Lane Niemann estimated that the red-light camera at Cermak and 17th Avenue will catch about 100 violations per week. That would equate to about $300,000 in revenue on top of the Harlem/Cermak take.

And although the Illinois House overwhelmingly passed a bill last month that sought to outlaw red-light cameras in small towns like North Riverside, that bill is presently buried in an Illinois Senate subcommittee and is not expected to make the Senate floor for a vote.

“Whatever revenue we can get that’s not from residents is best,” said Mayor Hubert Hermanek Jr. “Red-light camera [tickets] are 95-percent non-residents.”

Had that revenue not existed during the village board’s 2015-16 budget workshops last week, said Hermanek, “Those discussions would have been a lot different.”

But red-light camera revenue is only part of the story. The North Riverside Police Department over the past couple of years also has intensified enforcement in other areas.

Compared to 2013-14, according to the village’s proposed budget, the police department in 2014-15 increased the amount of revenue it collected from parking tickets by 40 percent ($30,000) and the amount it received from what are known as “compliance” tickets by 72 percent ($56,430).

In addition, the village saw a modest increase (about $15,000) in revenue it collects from administrative towing fees.

Part of the uptick in those revenues is due, according to Niemann, to the department in the past two years hiring a number of patrol officers. Newer officers tend to make more traffic stops and write compliance tickets for things such as equipment violations and expired vehicle registration.

The department has also increased its participation in the Illinois Department of Transportation’s traffic grant program from two enforcement periods per year to five. Many of those traffic stops result in compliance tickets being issued.

Meanwhile, the uptick in parking enforcement can be traced to an expansion of the police department’s public service aide, or PSA, program.

In 2012, the department hired its first two PSAs, one of them a retired North Riverside police officer, to write parking tickets, vehicle sticker violation tickets, man school crossings and attend to vehicle maintenance issues, freeing up sworn officers to concentrate on other tasks.

The police department now employs 10 part-time PSAs and a part-time PSA coordinator, retired Deputy Chief Tom Tauer. The PSAs replaced the department’s community service officers, who have been reassigned to the village’s recreation department and renamed site supervisors. There are seven part-time site supervisors employed by the village.


Ambulance program expansion?

Hermanek is also contemplating expanding the village ambulance service, but only if his plan to privatize the fire department is successful.

Right now the village operates one ambulance on a 24/7 basis, holding a second one in reserve for when the main ambulance needs repairs. But Hermanek said if the village is allowed to privatize the fire department completely and utilize the firefighter paramedics supplied by Paramedic Services of Illinois (PSI), the village could operate two full-time ambulances.

That could allow the village to respond to more mutual aid calls or contract with neighboring communities to pick up more ambulance calls, which would enable North Riverside to collect more revenue from ambulance calls and help offset its own expenses related to PSI.

“I’m doing everything I can to balance the budget,” Hermanek said.


North Riverside board settles on deficit budget

Water hike coming, street improvement plan mulled



North Riverside's village board will pass a deficit budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year after trustees settled on the plan last week during a pair of public workshops.

After about 12 hours of discussions over two days, the village board's finance committee voted 2 to 1 to recommend a budget that will force the village to use about $665,000 in general fund reserves to cover the operating shortfall.

The village board made some cuts but mainly deferred capital expenditures, adjusted revenue projections and delayed decisions on expenditures relating to a possible privatization of the fire department to trim what was originally a $2.6 million hole in the general fund.

Gone for good, apparently, is the village's time-honored freeze on its annual property tax levy. The proposed 2015-16 budget includes a projected 6.4-percent increase in property tax revenues.

The village hadn't raised its property tax levy in more than two decades before doing so last December.

"Once we started, we aren't going to stop it," said Hermanek. "To stop it now would be counterproductive."

The village board will also pass a water rate increase this summer to account for a large hike in the cost of water charged by the Brookfield-North Riverside Water Commission, which resulted from yet another increase in water costs from the city of Chicago at the beginning of 2015.

The rate charged by the village per 1,000 gallons of water on July 15 will jump 10 percent from $7.54 to $8.30. That means anyone paying the minimum for water in North Riverside will see their quarterly combined water/garbage bill rise about $3 to $109.20. 

Ten years ago the minimum water/garbage quarterly bill was less than $50. But that was before the city of Chicago enacted a series of rate hikes and the North Riverside Village Board phased out its practice of subsidizing water and waste hauling for residents.

"Little by little we're taking away the subsidizations," Hermanek said. 

The village board also directed Finance Director Sue Scarpiniti to explore possible options for financing $1 million in residential street improvements. It's unclear what kind of financing the village might secure in light of its bond rating, which was lowered in 2014.

But the condition of side streets in North Riverside needs to be addressed, Hermanek said.

"All three areas of town need this," said Hermanek. They're not getting any better. It's a top priority."

The budget also calls for funding both the police and fire pensions at the state-mandated levels, a sum totaling almost $1.9 million.

The board will also begin looking at adjusting the way it provides health insurance to both employees and retirees in order to reduce those costs. Hermanek has asked the village's insurance broker to explore an HMO plan and different PPO plans for village employees, and said the village, during contract negotiations, will attempt to convince union employees to phase out the PPO plan currently offered in favor of a lower-cost plan.

The village will also look into changing the way it provides post-retirement health care coverage for those former employees who still qualify for the benefit in order to reduce what is now a large unfunded obligation.

Voting to recommend the budget to the full board were finance committee Chairwoman Vera Wilt and Trustee Joseph Mengoni. Trustee H. Bob Demopoulos voted against the budget because it included the village's continuing plan to privatize the fire department.

Demopoulos questioned the village's campaign to privatize the department, a subject presently hung up in Cook County Circuit Court. The proposed budget makes the assumption that the village will prevail in its efforts.

But what happens, Demopoulos asked, if the village isn't successful?

"What's Plan B?" he asked.

Hermanek said that if the village failed, it would be forced to sit back down with the firefighters union at the negotiating table and hammer out a new deal. In a separate interview, he indicated that the village might urge the union to agree to an expanded firefighting role for its contract paramedics, indicating layoffs were likely as well.

The entire board attended the committee workshops, and the four remaining members of the board, including Hermanek, indicated that the deficit budget would form the basis of the 2015-16 appropriations ordinance, which must be passed by the board by the end of July.

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