News made public last month about an impending road improvement project at the intersection of Harlem Avenue and Cermak Road ought to give elected officials and residents alike some pause.
The work will result in the loss – perhaps permanently – of revenue attributable to the two red-light cameras North Riverside operates there. While from the standpoint of motorists hit with $100 fines for turning right on red that news couldn’t be better – that means the cameras on the Berwyn side are toast as well – it’s a real problem for North Riverside.
Those two cameras have resulted in the village collecting about $2 million annually, money which has gone directly to pay about half of the village’s police and fire pension obligations. Absent that money, officials would have to find it elsewhere.
There are some creative avenues for doing that. Just last month, village trustees voted to increase ambulance fees from $600 or $1,200, depending on service, to $3,000 regardless of whether basic or advanced life saving measures are taken.
While officials have assured residents they won’t have to pay any more than they already do through third-party insurance for ambulance services, the village stands to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year from additional Medicaid reimbursement via a federal program adopted by Illinois in 2019.
While that’s fine, it won’t be enough to make up for the loss of the red-light revenue which, if we’re honest, was always trending towards trouble.
In the wake of political corruption cases involving a former official from the red-light camera company used by North Riverside and most other camera reliant Cook County suburbs, fewer of the devices have been approved and opposition has increased.
In 2020 the Illinois Comptroller’s Office announced it would no longer seek to collect red-light camera fines through its Local Debt Recovery Program, which was an effortless avenue for North Riverside to collect on tickets from scofflaws, who would have their state income tax return checks garnished.
That forced the village to spend money to hire a collection agency, which could never hope to recoup as much as the state. The writing has been on the wall for some time, most North Riverside residents just didn’t know it.
During the 2021-22 North Riverside budget discussion last summer, elected officials were faced with plugging a $1.6 million projected deficit. Now add another $1.5 to $2 million once the red-light revenue is gone, and you’ll get a sense of the pickle elected officials will find themselves in come 2023 or 2024.
Unless there’s a golden goose we haven’t heard of that’s ready to swoop in and provide that kind of revenue, North Riverside taxpayers may be facing a day of reckoning.