Thursday, May 17, 2018
By Samantha Phillips
If the Ohio Senate passes a bill prohibiting small townships from using speed cameras on highways, Liberty and other area townships may have to revise their policies on using them on those thoroughfares.
Youngstown, Girard and Weathersfield Township also use speed cameras on highways. Cities or townships with a population of more than 50,000 wouldn’t be affected by the bill.
Current state law allows townships to use the cameras. Township police don’t have the jurisdiction to make arrests on the highway, but a citation from a speed camera is not the same thing, Liberty’s legal counsel Cherry Poteet explained.
Liberty trustees approved a resolution last week to use the speed cameras on Interstate 80 and state Route 11, and split money evenly between police and general funds. Liberty police already use cameras throughout the township but hasn’t seen significant revenue from their use.
Administrator Pat Ungaro said the trustees plan to use half of the money generated from the cameras for road-paving projects.
Liberty Township’s options to bolster the police fund and funds for paving streets are either to raise taxes or use speed cameras, Ungaro said.
State legislators weighed in on the bill after hearing about Liberty’s resolution.
State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, D-33rd, said local communities suffered from state tax cuts and are trying to scrape by. Speed cameras raise funds for townships to update infrastructure and keep police, fire and addiction services running, he said.
“They are trying [to pass] levies – for police and fire, senior centers, school levies – they are trying to scrape by, so I don’t blame them for trying to pursue another avenue to generate revenue from speeding. I don’t love the tickets, and residents don’t love it, but I don’t blame communities for going down that road,” Schiavoni said.
He noted Columbus has a $2 billion rainy-day fund, yet the state cut taxes “so deep that we don’t have the necessary funding for local government.”
“Since [Gov. John] Kasich has been running the show, it’s been about tax cuts for the highest earners, but when you do that, and you prioritize all those cuts, then you don’t have any money to actually fund local government properly,” he said. “Communities have to do more with less.”
State Rep. John Boccieri of Poland, D-59th, said Ohio laws don’t specify if townships can prohibit or enforce motor-vehicle laws on interstate highways using traffic cameras.
“I think it’s wrong to just do it for revenue. There has to be some kind of safety aspect,” he said. “In some communities, it has gotten completely out of control since the state Legislature has been cutting local government funds.”
In a news release, Boccieri said the Ohio Senate needs to pass House Bill 125 because townships are using the speed cameras as “a cash-grab opportunity.”
Boccieri said he has not seen data to support that safety on roads improve greatly from speed cameras.
“I’m not necessarily opposed to communities using techniques and procedures to reduce auto crashes,” he said. “But in fairness to the consumer, you can’t set up speed traps.”
Poteet said the civil penalties for the highway speed tickets will be $100, the same as the rest of the township, and $150 in a marked construction zone.
The highway speed-camera program was passed to run for six months as a trial run, but Poteet said the township will make adjustments as necessary if the bill passes.
“Any time legislation changes something, we have to look at it,” she said.