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Suburbs' recourse over red-light cameras remains murky

Thursday, June 10, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ashok Selvam

Local officials expect red-light camera objections like the measure Schaumburg officials Tuesday adopted to spread like a scarlet fever to other towns affected by Cook County's plan to install the cameras in the suburbs.

But other than sending a message that municipalities are unhappy they weren't consulted, will these objections have any power over Cook County?

"I've looked at this, and the issues - as most legal issues are - are not absolutely clear," Schaumburg Village Attorney Jack Siegel said.

The county board approved plans June 1 for 20 red-light cameras at suburban intersections and identified 30 potential sites, most in the Northwest suburbs. The cameras would operate for at least a year then be re-evaluated.

Siegel told Schaumburg officials that if they are serious about fighting the county, they should adopt an ordinance allowing the cameras only with the village's consent.

Now Arlington Heights, which Siegel also represents, wants to adopt its own ban, Wilmette passed a resolution Tuesday objecting to the cameras and Buffalo Grove officials also are considering action. Palatine and Elk Grove Village leaders want more time to research the issues before joining the party.

Authority and jurisdiction are delicate subjects. Buffalo Grove Village Attorney William Raysa noted that the traffic signals where cameras are proposed are county owned. Buffalo Grove Village President Elliot Harstein countered that the county sheriff does not enforce laws in the village.

However, a clause in the Illinois Constitution gives municipalities hope they can succeed: "If a home rule county ordinance conflicts with an ordinance of a municipality, the municipality ordinance shall prevail within its jurisdiction."

"There's no question that both the state statute and our home rule authority extends to regulate the traffic upon our streets, and it's an exclusive authority," Siegel said.

The same clause helped fuel Rosemont's court case when it battled Cook County over the collection of a county amusement tax enacted in 1996, said Hoffman Estates Village Attorney Art Janura. Rosemont officials adopted an ordinance stating the village would not collect taxes on patrons at venues including the Rosemont Theatre and what's now known as the Allstate Arena.

Courts in 1999 eventually ruled in favor of the county's right to impose the amusement tax, stating Rosemont's ordinance did not pertain to the village's own government and affairs, but those of the county's.

The hurdle today is determining if a conflict exists between county and local ordinances.

How could the village and county determine a conflict? "Go to court," Janura said with a laugh.

Unlike the Rosemont case, where local officials were left with the responsibility of collecting taxes on the county's behalf, red-light camera tickets are automated with the ticket sent to the mailing address linked to the license plate of the vehicle caught on video. No local personnel are needed.

Cook County Commissioner Gregg Goslin said local authorities still will be left to deal with angry motorists. Most residents don't know the difference between a county and local road, and therefore they would lodge their complaints at village hall, he said.

"They would bear the brunt of the unhappiness with the citizens," Goslin said. "So I totally understand their reaction."

Goslin was unhappy Wednesday that the county highway department did not consult with local officials before announcing the cameras' locations.

Commissioners Timothy Schenider and Larry Suffredin, along with Goslin, now are co-sponsoring an amendment giving towns the ability to stop the installation of cameras if their local government boards don't want them. The proposal will go before the county board Tuesday.

Suffredin said he'll have another amendment postponing installation until a new board president is seated in November.

There's also a question of revenue. Cook County officials estimate they will earn $2 million next year from the cameras. None of that money is slated to go to the municipalities.

"Maybe the municipalities will want to stay and work out a revenue arrangement with the county," Goslin said. "But right now they need to have the option to opt out."

• Daily Herald Staff Writer Steve Zalusky contributed to this report



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