Manifolds, Manolos, and Manure
My first car was a sweet little faded 1989 red Ford Escort hatchback. The ‘BUNNI 9’ (yes, that was its license plate) was complete with a stick shift and a left turn signal that only worked if you pressed on the hazard button at the same time. That little car went some great places during its short tenure with me. We went to Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, and to the top of my farmer’s corn silage pile. We parked illegally during a campus visit in Urbana. Carted too many people to the Dells. It even rolled down the driveway one night after I didn’t use the emergency brake.
I traded in the Escort for a purple two-door Saturn with a spoiler. In addition to having a working turn signal, that glorious car even had an automatic transmission. The Saturn ran me back and forth to junior college, undergrad, and graduate school. My farmer wouldn’t let me trade it in when we bought the sports car. Instead he drove it until it hit 225,000 miles. He cracked the windshield hauling steel rods, drove it through a cattle yard, and most famously got three speeding tickets in three different states on the same weekend in it. The Saturn finally kicked it when it ran out of oil…completely out of oil.
In my youth I longed for fast, fancy cars. As an adult I’m more in the mood for reliable, easy to clean and safe. Clearly my priorities have changed, although I do harbor a secret love affair with a jet black Mini Cooper. Unlike many motorists, I live in an incorporated area without a vehicle sticker.
Funds from vehicle sticker purchases have long been used for roadway repairs. But despite the income, many municipalities have eliminated the program citing the cost of enforcement, staff time, and the printing of stickers. Vehicle stickers are also one of the most hated fees a municipality can impose on its residents, which begs the question why aren’t more Cook County residents living in unincorporated areas howling about the county’s vehicle sticker program?
I motor around in a Grand Cherokee. Each year I begrudgingly visit my friendly Secretary of State location and hand over $101 also known as the cost of traveling on some of Illinois’ well-maintained roadways. If I lived in unincorporated Cook County, I’d have to fork over an additional $100 to the county. I’m not a math genius, but let’s take a moment and dive a little deeper. Illinois is home to 57,915 square miles. At a license renewal cost of $101 it costs me $0.002 per mile to cruise the state. Granted that figure ignores gas, maintenance, insurance, etc. Cook County on the other hand is home to 1,635 square miles. At a Cook County license fee for my “larger or luxury” vehicle of $100, it costs me $0.06 to travel all of Cook County.
But wait! (That was my favorite line from one of my kids’ beloved bedtime books.) Cook County’s license fee is only for residents living in unincorporated areas. There’s 125.8 square miles in unincorporated Cook County. It costs $0.80 to travel in the unincorporated areas.
People who know me will tell you that I’m a believer in fee-for-service. But that fee must be used to maintain and improve on the services being provided. I wonder: What are the funds from the vehicle sticker fees being used for? Road repairs? Police services in unincorporated areas? Public safety? To pad the county’s coffers?
Also: Why aren’t residents as outraged as I would be? Why aren’t they beating down their commissioner’s doors? The answer for that may be because they don’t have their commissioner’s contact information (see bottom of this column for that information).
If the cost of driving on Cook County’s roads annoys you as much as it does me, call you commissioner and then drop me a line to let me know how the conversation went. I’ll be here, cruising around the county and trying not to have a repeat of my farmer’s infamous three speeding tickets weekend.
Cook County Commissioners
Commissioners representing unincorporated areas
Commissioner primarily representing Chicago