State towns rely heavily on tickets, traffic violations

Illinois’ municipalities are far more reliant on tickets and other fines for revenue than most other states.

Locals and savvy visitors know which areas drivers can’t speed through, where eager police lie in wait to issue tickets. A new Sunlight Foundation study shows that Illinois towns and cities make 8 cents in fines and forfeitures for every dollar they bring in from taxes, compared with the national average of 2 cents.

Some towns are much more reliant on fines and fees than others. While suburban Naperville barely collects any fines compared with their taxes, Sunlight Foundation Senior Analyst Emily Shaw said the Census shows that the small town of Belgium, just south of Danville, collects 62 cents in fines for every tax dollar the village collects. Its budget wasn’t available online to independently verify.

Suburban Berwyn pulled in 19 cents for every dollar it taxes residents. Shaw said most of these fines are likely being assessed to out-of-towners.

“Even though the people in those towns might not be paying it, surely the people around them are paying quite a bit.”

Shaw said bigger budgets don’t necessarily translate to fewer fines collected. Chicago, which collects 11 cents in fines on every tax dollar, is far more reliant on fines than other large cities and even smaller cities in Illinois.

“It was striking how high Chicago’s relative rate of collection of fines was relative to its tax collection,” Shaw said.

Shaw said this could be due to a large influx of fines related to the city’s red-light camera system, which has brought in more than $600 million in fines since the cameras’ installation in 2003.

Shaw also said citizens need to police their own towns’ budgets to ensure fines are not getting out of hand.

“Please take a look and see how your local governments are doing,” Shaw said. “It’s important that we keep an eye on this.”

Only Louisiana, Arkansas and Georgia reaped more than Illinois’ 8-cent average in the study.

The most fine-reliant town in the country was Henderson, Louisiana, collecting $3.73 in fines for every tax dollar.

–Illinois News Network

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