Girard leaders link speed cameras to safer streets


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By samantha phillips

sphillips@vindy.com

girARD

The number of accidents reported in the city dropped after the officials implemented its speed-camera program in mid-2016, according to city records.

There were 242 crashes reported in 2014 and 254 in 2015, two years before the program. There were 199 in 2016, the year the program started and 21l in 2017.

“I think it’s definitely related to the cameras being there. If you look where we use the cameras on a regular basis, the numbers have gone down,” said Jerry Lambert, city public service director.

On the portion of Interstate 80 the police department monitors, reported accidents went from 43 in 2015 to 32 in 2017, and on North State Street, accidents dropped from 51 in 2015 to 25 in 2017.

Mayor James Melfi said the cameras have made the roads safer for pedestrians and drivers.

He said there is a generous margin of error, meaning people won’t be ticketed for going a mile over the speed limit.

“With plenty of publicity surrounding the program, people should be well aware of it,” he said, adding all the revenue from the program went to services that help the public.

The city operates the camera in partnership with Blue Line Solutions of Athens, Tenn., which collects 40 percent of the generated revenue. Girard collects 60 percent, Lambert said.

Of Girard’s take, 44 percent went to the general fund, 30 percent went to street-paving projects, 4 percent went to the recreational fund, which paid for the canoe launch along the Mahoning River, and 22 percent went to the capital fund, part of which was used to purchase five new police vehicles, said Sam Zirafi, city auditor.

From July 2016 to December 2017, the program generated $2,352,775 for the city, records show.

Several roads in Girard, including parts of South Elruth Street, Broadway Avenue and Cherry Street, were repaved with money from the speed cameras in addition to grants and funds allocated for repaving.

Richard Watts, a former Girard councilman, said he initially was skeptical of the program but now supports it.

He said cuts from the state made it harder for a city that was in fiscal emergency years ago to generate money for public services.

“Cash-strapped communities are forced to resort to creative methods of generating income if they are going to maintain essential services to their citizens,” he said.

Watts said he enjoys driving around the city more with the repaved roads and safer drivers.

Katie Blazina, a Girard resident, said her fiance was ticketed for going over the speed limit.

“The economy is bad everywhere, and if this is able to help bring money in, I am OK with it,” she said. “The officers with the cameras do not take away from those patrolling or responding to calls. People act like Girard is the only city with the cameras.”

Other communities in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, including Howland and Youngstown, have a speed-camera program.

Mike Williams of Girard said he received a ticket and deserved it, but he has qualms with the way the program works.

“My problem with the camera is that it does not stop the speeder. Someone could be speeding for miles after their picture was taken and they would not even receive the ticket until later in the week,” he said.

“I have no problem with strictly enforced speed limits, but pull people over to do it. They would catch people with warrants, drug paraphernalia and a host of other crimes that the camera will not,” he added.

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