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Speed cameras in Youngstown school zones get green light

YOUNGSTOWN — The city’s board of control finalized a deal to put unmanned speed cameras in school zones.

Blue Line Solutions will install the cameras in school zones later this year. The Chattanooga, Tenn., company will oversee the cameras and issue civil citations to those caught going at least 11 mph over the speed limit in school zones.

With the contract approved Thursday, city officials said they will discuss a timetable with Blue Line for when the cameras will be installed.

Police Lt. Brian Welsh, head of the accident investigation and traffic unit, said he hopes to have the program running by fall. Proper signage and permits are needed before the cameras can be installed, he said.

There would be a 30-day grace period after the cameras are installed, in which those caught speeding would be issued warnings by mail.

City council authorized the board April 25 to sign the contract with Blue Line. Council members say the cameras are needed to slow down motorists in school zones.

A study in April 2021 by Blue Line showed over a five-day period that 21.3 percent of motorists monitored in school zones traveled at least 11 mph over the speed limit.

The contract with Blue Line would be for three years and extend for two-year periods at the option of the city.

Either party can terminate the contract with 30 days’ notice, but the city is obligated to use the cameras for the first two years of the deal unless it is willing to pay a penalty, up to $75,000, to terminate before that.

The penalty is $3,125 for every month during the first two years. For example, if the city terminates the contract after one year, it would have to pay $37,500 to Blue Line. If cancellation occurs five months before the contract reaches the two-year mark, the penalty would be $15,625.

That penalty wouldn’t occur if the city could show Blue Line failed “in any material way to perform its obligations,” according to the contract. Blue Line would have 60 days “to cure the default within 60 days after receiving notice.”

The city will get 65 percent of the money collected from speed citations with Blue Line receiving the remaining 35 percent.

Speeders would face civil penalties of $100 for driving at least 11 mph over the speed limit, $125 for 12 to 19 mph over the limit and $150 for those driving at least 20 mph over the limit. They would not get points on their driving record for the civil citations.

The city police department hasn’t written a single speeding ticket in a school zone this year.

If the city decides to put police officers at the camera locations, Blue Line agreed to pay their salaries and overtime at a rate provided by the city and agreed to by the company.

SUPREME COURT

The city’s police department used hand-held speed cameras, almost exclusively on Interstate 680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road, from August 2015 until November 2019.

It discontinued the program after the state Legislature passed a bill that reduced a municipality’s Local Government Fund money by the amount it received from the hand-held cameras for speeding and going through red lights.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld the law in a case brought by the village of Newburgh Heights and the city of East Cleveland, both in Cuyahoga County, that contended it infringed on their authority under home rule.

In the decision, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote, “The Ohio Constitution does not require the General Assembly to appropriate any funds to municipalities” and its members have “exclusive discretion to reduce the appropriation of local government funds” based on speed and red light camera enforcement.

She acknowledged that the law “may disincentivize municipalities” from using the cameras, but it doesn’t prohibit their use.

Youngstown received about $2.2 million in speed-camera money in 2019 compared with about $1.7 million in local government funds. The city ended the program because the speed-camera money was exclusively for police equipment purchases and to pay for officers on that duty, who did so on overtime at time and a half. LGF money goes into the city’s general fund.

There is an exemption in state law to the LGF deduction for cameras in school zones. Money collected by the city for school zone speeders can be used only for school-safety resources.

City officials haven’t determined uses for the revenue.

dskolnick@vindy.com

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