SALINE COUNTY -- County board member Wes Sherrod has proposed two measures he believes will bring more tourism to Saline County -- licensing UTVs to be driven on county roads, and permitting qualifying county businesses to have video gambling.
Sherrod said under the "Saline County Non-Highway Vehicle Ordinance" the county would permit a class of off-road vehicles -- often called utility task vehicles, side-by-sides or recreational off-road vehicles -- to be used legally on public roadways under county jurisdiction.
"This is something I think will help Saline County in a couple of ways," Sherrod said.
If approved, by the ordinance's definition, off-road vehicles that may be licensed will not include four-wheelers. Golf carts would be permitted. Operators would have to be at least 16, with a valid driver's license and have insurance on the UTV, similar to a highway vehicle. Proof of insurance would required.
UTVs would be required to have a rearview mirror, red "reflectorized" warning devices on the front and rear, a slow-moving vehicle emblem, a headlight emitting white light visible from 500 feet, red taillights visible from 100 feet, brake lights, turn signals and seat belts.
Owners will have to apply for a $100 permit every year, and the county will issue a decal that will have to be displayed on the vehicle. Owners who don't intend to ride UTVs on county roads, or who use the vehicles in farming, will not have to license them.
Sherrod said he believes that there are a lot of people who would be more likely to use Saline County as a destination if UTVs were permitted in more locations.
"We've got a lot of really beautiful places, and I really feel like people would like to come down here and be able to travel to some of these spots in their off-road vehicles," he said.
By increasing tourism, the county would stand to make more money, he said.
Sheriff James "Whipper" Johnson told the board the county may be better off licensing and regulating UTVs.
"People breaking the law are still going to be breaking the law. If they're trespassing, causing damage or operating while intoxicated, for example, they are subject to the law," Johnson said.
Expanding video gaming to eligible businesses in unincorporated areas would offer travelers additional entertainment options, Sherrod added.
The "Saline County Video Gaming Ordinance" would allow a business in the county to apply for a gaming license from the state. They would have to follow all requirements of the Illinois Video Gaming Act, hold a valid Illinois gaming license, a valid Saline County liquor license and a valid Illinois liquor license.
Sherrod noted that due to a change in state law that began Jan. 1, the board is no longer required to have a first and second reading of ordinances before putting them forth for a vote. However, he said he wanted to introduce his proposals now, to encourage discussion.
"I know some people are going to have issues with these ordinances, or at least concerns or questions," he said.
One of those is new board member Allan Porter, a farmer in Cottage Township, who said many people operate off-road vehicles illegally, and trespass on his and his neighbors' properties. Porter said one rider came onto his property without permission and declared he would ride where he pleased until Porter threatened to call the sheriff.
Porter said he fears permitting UTVs on county roads would make people more likely to trespass and possibly cause damage to private property.
Porter added he would prefer both proposals be put to voters in a referendum rather than being approved by a majority of the board.
"I don't think seven men should decide this," he said. "If this was passed by a referendum by county residents, then I could get behind it, but I can't as it stands now."
Sherrod said while he understands the concerns, his goal is to increase tourism, and bring in more money.
"Our revenues have been declining for a long time, and we have to be able to do things to make more money as a county without raising taxes," Sherrod said.
"I think focusing on tourism to bring people here and share the beauty of some of these areas, and then have more things for them to do once they get here, is a way we can do that."