Part 2 of a look at traffic fines in Forest Park

The traffic fine revenue collected by the village of Forest Park for towing and impound fees increased in 2014 by almost a third over calendar 2013, with a boost in traffic arrests taking place after the turn of the fiscal year in April. 

A Review analysis shows towing and impound revenue increased by 27 percent in calendar year 2014 compared with the previous year. 

The village has come to depend more and more on traffic fine revenue. According to the village’s Certificate of Estimated Revenue, the village expects to bring in $2,156,500 in traffic ticket fine revenue between April 30, 2014 and May 1, 2015. That’s up 15 percent, or $287,600 from the previous year’s goal of $1,868,900.

Starting in the new fiscal year, May 1, towing and impound revenue increased more steeply between the months of May and December 2014 than in 2013. By the end of the year, the village raked in $178,250 or $38,375 more than 2013’s $139,875.

An analysis by the Review of police reports given to the newspaper showed the village increased the number of driving with license suspended (DWLS) arrests from 249 in calendar 2013 to at least 318 in 2014. Of these, at least 230 had vehicles towed away and fines charged. A tow ticket is $500, paid to the village, with additional fees paid to local tow companies such as Nobs or H&R. These included at least 30 arrests of drivers traveling on the I-290 expressway. 

Village Administrator Tim Gillian said the village does not ask the police department to write more tickets.

“There is no direction for this office to write more tickets of this kind or that kind or any kind,” Gillian said. “The chief of police may look at his numbers and want to make sure his officers have been vigilant in writing traffic tickets.”

Other than towing and impound fees, the village makes money on traffic fines in four other ways, one of which is new this year: The constants are red light camera violations, parking fines and revenue sharing from Cook County. 

Local debt recovery

The new source of traffic fine income is a one-shot. Starting in 2014, Forest Park joined up for the Local Debt Recovery Program with the Illinois Secretary of State. The program matched the license plate numbers of chronic parking and traffic ticket scofflaws through the Illinois Comptroller’s Office. Anyone who had received several notices with significant unpaid debts to the village, even many years old, was eligible to have their tax refund docked. The village received almost $735,000 in revenue from the scofflaw program in calendar 2014. But it’s a one-time shot as debts are paid. The village also has to pay collection agent fees to participate in the debt recovery program. In the first four months of 2014, those fees were $119,000.

Red light camera violations

Red light camera violation revenue fell in calendar 2014. In 2013, the village got $125,794.76 from fines generated by the cameras. In 2014 that number fell by around half to $62,546.10. 

Cook County sharing revenue

A third source of traffic fine income is Cook County court sharing revenue. If a person is arrested by Forest Park police for a state traffic violation, Forest Park gets a small cut of the fines paid to Cook County. 

The total amount of county sharing revenue in calendar year 2014 was around $75,000, but that includes revenue paid for non-traffic offenses. The number also dropped by more than half from $161,000 in 2013. 

Of the amount predicted for FY 2015, local debt recovery is up, but red light camera and Cook County sharing revenue are on a downward trend. 

Parking violations

Finally, the village gets traffic fine money from parking violations, including vehicle tag tickets. The amount collected in 2013 for parking offenses was $565,798. The police department has not yet submitted the amount collected in 2014 to the village council.

Police aren’t expected to pay for themselves

Police protection cost the village $4,740,967 in FY 2014, according to the village audit. That’s about 20 percent of the village’s total general fund revenue of $21.4 million. Traffic fines in FY 2015 represent 5 percent of the village general fund revenue stream.

“If traffic fines make up $2 million or maybe more of the village’s revenue, we’re still on the backside of even,” Gillian said. “[Revenue] is not what we look for at the public works department, the fire department and the community center. The village does not expect the police department, or any department to be self-sustaining.

“We love getting the revenue [from traffic ticket fines], but it is not the overriding factor why [the police] write tickets. We are not expecting the police department to pay for itself,” Gillian added.

“But we sure like our guys to be out there forcefully enforcing the laws.”

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...