With her announcement Monday that, as of Feb. 6, the Illinois Comptroller’s Office would no longer collect red-light camera fines on behalf of municipalities, Susana Mendoza delivered another nail into the red-light camera coffin.
For the past few years, towns like North Riverside have been increasingly dependent on the comptroller to collect fines from scofflaws who have refused to pay tickets issued to them.
In North Riverside’s case specifically, that’s meant around $1 million in each of the past two fiscal years coming through the state.
While you could argue that Mendoza is inappropriately using her own personal opinion to set state policy, her personal opinion – which is mirrored by millions of Illinoisans – is that red-light cameras are a racket, designed to rake in money with negligible safety benefits.
Mendoza’s decision is now coupled with an ongoing federal investigation, apparently involving the connections between politicians and the red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC.
No one’s been charged with any wrongdoing, but the federal probe appears to have a long reach, which has touched a state senator and a Cook County commissioner, among others.
That kind of news has spurred other state legislators to push for red-light cameras to be outlawed. While those efforts have failed in the past, there wasn’t a federal probe looming not too far in the background.
The long and short of it is this: One way or another, we believe red-light cameras are on their way out in Illinois. And towns that rely on that stream of revenue – like North Riverside, which uses those funds to help cover its ever-increasing police and fire pension obligations – need to begin planning for that money to dry up.
It’s also past time that North Riverside began a frank discussion about how its pension obligations will be funded in the future. While the village has been able to leverage red-light camera ticket revenue in recent years, the village needs to be able to have a dependable source of revenue to pay for pensions.
Even red-light cameras revenues themselves were showing signs of declining – due to a variety of factors, from slow payers to road construction. With sales taxes being used to fund almost all other village services and other debt obligations, and with that source of revenue also unpredictable, there has to be another way.
And, while North Riverside homeowners have been spoiled by years of incredibly low local property taxes, the piper is asking to be paid.
If you want police and fire services to remain at current levels, you’re going to have to pay for their pensions. North Riverside property taxes have been held down so long, the entire village tax levy amounts to about a quarter of the total annual pension bill.
Could the village get rid of some perks for elected and appointed officials, like vehicles? Could raises be curtailed? Perhaps. But none of those cuts is going to get you to $1 million, much less the $3 million total pension bill.
Folks, local government is you. If you want the services the government provides, you have to pay for them. And there needs to be a discussion about a referendum to levy taxes to fund pensions.
North Riverside can’t ignore this any longer.