Small-town mayor defends big money from red-light cameras

on Jun27

27 June 2017 | 2:51 am

The mayor of Hillside staunchly defended the western suburb’s lucrative red-light camera program Monday, after critics questioned what local leaders have done with millions of dollars raked in by the cameras in the past few years.

Residents who spoke at a village board meeting in Hillside cited a recent joint investigation by the Chicago Sun-Times and ABC7 Chicago’s I Team — which found more than $8 million in camera fines were collected in the community of about 8,000 people between the start of 2014 and the end of last year.

Only Berwyn and Melrose Park have cameras that are bringing in greater fine revenues than Hillside’s traffic-enforcement devices, according to the Sun-Times/ABC7 analysis of public records from 86 Chicago area suburbs that have cameras.

Paul Kasley, a 30-year resident of Hillside, said he wants officials in his town to remove the cameras.

“I’m convinced that red-light cameras are present to generate revenue for the red-light camera company and free money for the villages,” Kasley said. “They just sit back and collect money, and they’re not concerned with how it affects the people of the town, the people coming through the town and the image of the town.”

Paul Kasley talks about red-light cameras at the meeting in Hillside on Monday, June 26, 2017. | Tim Boyle/For the Sun-Times

Another Hillside resident, Roger Romanelli, suggested to town leaders, “Maybe we can do more to warn people,” and asked for an accounting of how the money has been spent.

Hillside Mayor Joseph Tamburino, who was first elected in 1981, said the village’s take from the cameras over the past three years was about $5.1 million. The rest of the $8 million from Hillside’s cameras went to a private contractor, SafeSpeed LLC of Chicago.

Nine out of 10 suburbs whose cameras rang up the highest revenue totals have contracts with SafeSpeed, the Sun-Times and ABC7 found.

Tamburino said the village’s share of the red-light fines has paid for street repairs, “stormwater pipe changes” and removal of trees destroyed by the emerald ash borer.

“I want you to understand we’ve got over $5 million worth of work we’ve been able to do at no expense to the residents,” the mayor said. “None whatsoever. No expense to the resident. No expense on your tax bill, OK?”

Hillside signed a deal with SafeSpeed in 2009. The cameras operated by the company there issued nearly 98,000 tickets in the past three years, records show.

Total fines collected from the cameras were about $2.8 million in 2014, $2.8 million again in 2015 and $2.4 million last year.

Other SafeSpeed clients whose cameras are bringing in large amounts include North Riverside, Lakemoor, Country Club Hills, Matteson and Skokie, the Sun-Times and ABC7 found.

Cameras in the suburbs made a total of nearly $67 million in 2016 — a 50 percent increase from 2014.

Contributing: Ann Pistone and Jason Knowles of ABC7 Chicago

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