It used to be you’d hear of out-of-the-way outposts making bank off unsuspecting motorists, nailing them with a speeding ticket or some such violation as they crossed the town border on their way to somewhere else.
You’d pay the darn thing, because, hey, you weren’t making a special trip back to Nowheresville to fight the fact that you were caught doing 6 mph over the limit.
Nowadays you hear more stories about municipalities profiting by handing out fines like there’s no tomorrow. Red-light cameras have been a particular boon to some towns, like North Riverside, where busy roads and shopping centers lure out-of-towers. Come for the unlimited breadsticks and get a bonus $100 red-light violation on your way out.
One of the arguments for the cameras and the money they provide is that locals know the cameras are there and won’t get caught like the visitors from Cicero and Forest Park.
But as far as we’ve seen, there no actual evidence that locals don’t get caught. Sure, we’re guessing the vast majority of those getting nicked are visitors, just from the sheer numbers rolling through on a daily basis. But, we haven’t seen a breakdown showing how many red-light tickets are sent to North Riverside residents.
And it doesn’t appear that North Riverside will be voluntarily getting rid of its red-light camera program any time soon. Not when the village took in almost $2 million from 1.5 cameras during the first year of operation.
By the end of 2015, there will be three such cameras in operation. Officials have conservatively estimated the cameras will bring in $1.5 million during the 2015-16 fiscal year. We’re guessing it’ll be more like $2.5 million.
However, you can’t help but wonder how long the cash register will ring. There have been a handful of attempts at the state level, all failed, to outlaw red-light cameras. And history has shown that as more and more people become aware of red-light cameras at an intersection, the revenue declines.
So, while red-light cameras may be a stop-gap solution during a time of relative financial crisis in North Riverside, we wonder how sustainable it is. We also wonder how North Riversiders, who perform their civic duty by running a red light every now and then, feel when they know that 40 percent of the $100 ticket they’re paying is going to some red-light camera company.
If they’re paying $100, wouldn’t they rather it all go to the village? That’s what would happen if North Riverside asked its taxpayers to pay for government services they expect to receive.
There’s powerful resistance to asking that question. Instead the village has gone after taxing “others” with its non-home rule sales tax and places for eating tax and more recently with the tax revenue it shares with the state from video gambling machines (all of which, of course, residents also pay).
But there are limits to those sources of revenue and they can be unpredictable. Property taxes are not. If the village wants to ensure financial stability, its property tax base is where officials need to look.
And they need to be able to ask the questions, “What do you want and how much are you willing to pay for it?”