Traffic citations 'good business'

Traffic citations 'good business'

July 3rd, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

All 65 full-time Signal Mountain city employees can look forward to pay raises starting July 1 after a fiscal year in which every town revenue source tanked, except one.

The lone moneymaker was "fines, forfeits (and) penalties," more easily translated as a 63 percent projected increase mostly from traffic citations and court costs, according to city officials and a budget that passed Monday morning.

"It's good business," said Signal Mountain Police Chief Boyd Veal. "We've had a hard enough time with reputation, but the department's getting the job done."

Raises will range from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent, city documents show, and the total cost is $38,000.

Signal Mountain police officers issued 602 speeding citations in fiscal year 2009 and 719 in fiscal year 2010, records show. That's a 20 percent increase valued at about $26,000, including court costs paid by people who chose to contest their tickets.

Officials forecast $46,749 in income from fines, forfeits and penalties for fiscal year 2010. The projection now has Signal Mountain collecting $65,000 before July 1, the start of the 2011 fiscal year.

More than 80 percent of the 1,321 tickets written between 2009 and 2010 come from offenses on three roads on Signal Mountain -- Ridgeway Avenue, Signal Mountain Boulevard and Shackleford Ridge Road.

Chief Veal said staffing fluctuates from year to year, which also affects the rate of ticket writing: more police officers means more tickets.

In addition, he said, some officers simply write more tickets than others.

why the increase?

Two weeks ago, Town Manager Honna Rogers attributed the traffic citation increase squarely to town Judge Mark Rothberger.

"He's finding more people guilty, and he's enforcing more court costs," she said.

Judge Rothberger declined comment.

But a recent conflict between the police department and Town Council may have resulted in a greater number of citations.

In October 2009, Chief Veal lobbied the council to install traffic cameras for speeding on the mountain, even summoning an executive from American Traffic Solutions -- the company that supplies Red Bank with three sets of cameras -- to speak at a council meeting.

SIGNAL'S TOP CITATIONS

* Ridgeway Avenue: 574

* Signal Mountain Boulevard: 376

* Shackleford Ridge Road: 118

* Note: Includes FY 2009 and FY 2010

Source: Signal Mountain Police Department

"When you come into Signal Mountain, you're in somebody's neighborhood," Chief Veal said. "My job is to look at possible alternatives and means by which we can perhaps better do our job. To my knowledge, the traffic camera concept had never been explored. That's what I asked them to do."

Council members shot down the chief's proposal after dozens of residents spoke against the possibility. Mayor Bill Lusk said the cameras weren't a "good fit" for the town, and residents used several arguments against them ranging from basic invasion of privacy to using the Orwellian phrase "Big Brother."

After the traffic camera effort failed, Chief Veal authorized more overtime for officers to work traffic enforcement.

Extra patrol hours have been funded with an $18,000 grant awarded to the town by the Governor's Highway Safety Office, but Chief Veal denied any "conscious effort" to step up traffic patrols this year.

The federal grant covers only a year and ends in September, Ms. Rogers said. The town has reapplied for the grant, she said, but no approval has come through yet.

Chief Veal said Signal Mountain does not keep data on how many tickets are issued to residents versus drivers from out of town.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Towns find money for employee raises

Article: 2-year ban on traffic cameras eyed

Article: Red Bank speeders, get ready to rumble

Article: Signal Mountain: No traffic cameras, sales tax hike