The Illinois House last week put a scare into officials of the state’s non-home rule communities — that’s any municipality smaller than 25,000 people — which have red-light cameras.
That’s because the House voted overwhelmingly, 79 to 26 (four representatives voted present), to eliminate the controversial devices at intersections in the state’s small villages and towns. Shutting down the devices could deprive Forest Park of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds for general operations. River Forest could lose money intended for one-time capital improvements.
That the bill singled out non-home rule communities, which don’t have the options of bringing in additional revenue like neighboring communities such as Oak Park, angered administrators in both communities.
“I can’t understand the logic to say it’s wrong in River Forest to have the cameras and not in home rule communities like Skokie,” said Eric Palm, village administrator in River Forest, which has red-light cameras at two of its busiest intersections, North and Harlem avenues and at Lake Street and Harlem.
Forest Park Village Administrator Tim Gillian was just as blunt.
“It’s just another way for the state to pound non-home rule communities. [Rep. David McSweeney of Barrington Hills, the bill’s sponsor] wants to start a movement to ban them everywhere in Illinois, and he’s starting with the low-hanging fruit,” said Gillian, whose community uses the funds to fuel operations.
Leaders in other communities were surprised how fast the bill got through the House and by such a large vote.
McSweeney’s bill made it to the House floor, where it passed easily, in a vote on April 22.
It will now head to the Senate, but the bill’s sponsor there, Sen. Dan Duffy (R-Lake Barrington), says he’s not sure the legislation has much of a chance.
“I’m hearing that [Senate President John] Cullerton is not going to let it be called for a vote,” said Duffy. “It’s frustrating and upsetting that the people’s voice is being stifled in Springfield.”
Cameras in River Forest at North and Harlem went live in early 2013 and at Harlem and Lake a year later. Since their operation got started, village officials planned spending the funds for one-time capital improvements, such as installing new lighting around town and reconstructing the commuter parking lot on the west side of Thatcher Avenue.
In fiscal year 2014, the village garnered $667,015; in fiscal 2015 revenues were projected to be $533,620. During the upcoming fiscal year, which begins May 1, the village has estimated red-light camera revenues at $539,505, according to the fiscal year 2015-16 budget.
This year’s funds will be used for a new roof for the public works garage and River Forest’s share of the Madison Street streetscape project, an effort that will be funded by state funds as well as money from Forest Park.
To lose red-light camera money would put more pressure on the general operating fund to pay for projects like those, said Palm, noting that the state should “start worrying about the mess in Springfield and don’t undo things on a municipal level,” he said.
The overwhelming number of violations issued with the aid of the cameras is sent to those who don’t completely stop at a red light prior to turning right. The Chicago Tribune in 2014 ran a series of articles on the city of Chicago’s red-light camera program, including a study that showed the cameras didn’t reduce accidents, that yellow lights were too short and that the city didn’t follow rules regarding notifying red-light violators.
But the legislation last week wouldn’t touch Chicago’s red-light system, just those of small towns who say they are paying the price for the sins of Chicago. McSweeney reportedly wanted a statewide ban on red-light cameras, but the Illinois constitution would have required a three-fifths majority to ban red-light cameras in home rule communities.
Forest Park has had red-light cameras since 2008. According to Gillian, Forest Park in 2014 netted $105,048 from red-light violations, after fees. To date in 2015, Forest Park has collected $55,432 in revenue from red-light camera violations.
Gillian said the revenue is important, but so too is dealing with traffic safety. According to the Forest Park Review, the intersection of Roosevelt and Desplaines in 2010 had 16 crashes, and officials at the time noted that red-light cameras would help bring that number down. Additional crash information was not available.
River Forest and Forest Park officials noted that there were no issues with their cameras. Some lawmakers, including state Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago), whose 8th District includes part of Forest Park and all of North Riverside, voted against the bill. Ford said he was not against red-light cameras per se. His problem was with the way the city of Chicago administered its program.
However, he said, if there was a groundswell of voices out of North Riverside or Forest Park calling for the elimination of red-light cameras, he’d consider voting for their elimination.
“I definitely want to hear from the constituent base,” Ford said. “If they urged me to support the measure, it would’ve been easy to do.”
State Rep. Emanuel Chris Welch (D-Westchester), who represents River Forest and Forest Park, also voted against the bill.
“There should be reform, it should be reasonable,” Welch said. “But you can’t pick and choose who should and shouldn’t have red-light cameras.”
If the bill is to advance through the Illinois Senate, its first stop would be in the Senate Transportation Committee, chaired by Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago), whose district includes Riverside.