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Cook County, Illinois Backs Down From Forced Red Light Camera Plan
Cook County, Illinois gives up on plan to force traffic cameras on unwilling suburbs.

Joan Patricia Murphy
By The Expired Meter

Cook County, Illinois board members voted 9-4 on Tuesday to give municipalities the option to say no to red light cameras in their towns. The board got an earful from municipal constituents after it approved a contract with a pair of red light camera firms on June 2 to set up automated ticketing machines on suburban Cook County roads.

The contract came as a surprise to many suburban municipal leaders as the list of 30 proposed red light camera locations was released two weeks ago. This prompted Schaumburg, Arlington Heights, Buffalo Grove, Wilmette and others to begin looking into legal ways to stop cameras from being erected in their towns.

"This allows for municipalities to opt out of the county's red light camera program," said amendment sponsor Commissioner Tim Schneider, who opposed the original ordinance and subsequent red light camera contract. "It's not an argument for or against red light cameras... This is about the village's right to include or exclude red light cameras within their municipality."

Commissioner Tony Periaca, who voted against the original ordinance and subsequent contract, agreed with Schneider.

"It's an overreach and an encroachment on their sovereignty and sets a dangerous precedent," Periaca said. "It's a way to separate taxpayers from their money. It's not about safety it's about revenue."

Commissioner Patricia Murphy, who ultimately voted present, was concerned that giving municipalities the option to participate or not would effectively kill the program. She cited the $2 million in revenue the county expected from the red light camera pilot program.

"If they opt out in great numbers how does it affect our budget?" Murphy asked. "I'm worried what this means to the budget if municipalities choose to opt out. If they opt out you're not going to have anything left."

Commissioner Peter Silvestri supported the change in county policy.

"What this resolution does is recognize the partnership we have with the local municipalities," Silvestri said. "The local municipalities know their communities better than the county highway department. If the municipalities don't want the red light cameras, we should respect that."

Commissioner Joseph Moreno sponsored the original county red light camera ordinance in 2007. On Tuesday he voted against the amendment after being mildly critical of his colleagues.

"It's not about public safety, it's about politics," Moreno explained. "It's about getting re-elected in November."

The reaction among suburbs like Schaumburg was positive. The village has been perhaps the most vocally opposed to the plan, having threatened legal action to bar the cameras.

"I'm a little surprised," Schaumburg Village Board Member George Dunham said. "It sounds like what we were looking for. Sounds to me like they, for a change, listened to the will of the people."

Detailed coverage of Chicago motoring issues can be found at The Expired Meter.

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