Jefferson leaders will soon make a decision on automated speed cameras in school zones, an issue on which opinion continues to be divided.
The city council will vote on the matter Nov. 25. The devices, using lasers, would detect speeding infractions in these areas and automatically cite violators. The state recently passed a law allowing such automated technology to be placed in school zones.
After another lengthy discussion over the matter Nov.18, the council agreed to wait a week before voting to allow more time for a decision.
“I’m trying to figure out what my constituents want, and I’m for the (police) chief and I’m for our police department,” councilman Jon Howell said. “I am torn right now, so I want some time to pray about it, to research it and come back with an informed decision.”
The issue has been debated since city police chief Joe Wirthman asked last month that the city contract with Blue Line Solutions for the cameras to curb speeding in school zones. He said he met with other companies, but chose Blue Line because he found it to be the sole provider of laser technology to detect speeds, which he believes to be a higher-quality system.
Under the agreement, the city would retain 65 percent of the revenue from paid fines with the remaining 35 percent going to Blue Line. A minimum two-year contract with the company is required. A motorist would not receive a ticket unless speeding at 11 mph or faster through a school zone during school hours on school days. Fines would be considered civil fines and not count towards points on a motorist’s driving record. Every ticket must first be approved by the Jefferson Police Department. A digital display would be placed 500 feet before the school zone, alerting motorists of their speed. Additionally, signs would alert motorists of all speed camera zones. The department will also provide a 30-45 day educational period before citations begin.
According to city attorney Ronnie Hopkins, who is also the Jefferson Board of Education chairman, the school system “has no objection” to the speed cameras.
The council heard from the public on the issue Nov. 18 as 10 city residents addressed the council. More citizens spoke against the technology rather than for it.
Brittany Odom said removing the human element from speed enforcement leaves “too much room for error.”
“Having a physical officer there is invaluable because there are so many other dangers that can be prevented by having a physical officer that an automated machine just can’t take care of,” she said.
Councilman-elect Clint Roberts said he is “not a fan of cameras at all” and favors a police presence enforcing the 25 mph school-zone limit more stringently — not allowing a 10-mph cushion — to deter speeders rather than installing an automated system.
“If you want to make people really stop, make it a big deal,” he said.
Mike Beller, Chamblee’s assistant chief of police who lives in Jefferson, supported the automated camera system and said his department is looking into the same technology.
“It’s very fair,” he said. “A camera treats everyone the same, no matter who they know.”
Beller said the cameras are also useful in catching criminals. The technology allows for license-plate reading, which would alert city police within 30-40 seconds of any motorist who is considered a wanted person, or if a vehicle is stolen.
“It is a great crime-prevention tool,” Beller said.
Wirthman, who addressed the council before public comment, reiterated his view that the automated speed camera system would serve as a deterrent for speeders.
“I’m trying to find a way to slow people down in school zones,” he said.
But mayor Steve Quinn again expressed his issues with the cameras. He said alternatives, such as digital speed signs, should be considered first.
Quinn asked Wirthman why other methods haven’t been attempted and if speed cameras were the only option within the department to reduce school-zone speeding. Wirthman said the only other alternative is to provide more man power for a department tasked with covering a 22-mile area in the city with only three-to-four officers per shift.
“If you allow me to hire four officers, I’ll put an officer in each school zone,” he said. “Give me two officers, and I can move them back and forth.”
Quinn said he favored officers pulling over motorists and expressed concerns about contesting automated speed camera tickets in court.
“You can’t address your accuser in court,” he said.
Wirthman said the automated tickets could be contested in court.
If the council does want the technology, Quinn said the city should consider proposals from other companies before making a decision.
Councilman Malcolm Gramley said he’s in support of the cameras if the intent is to protect children and not generate revenue. He said according to traffic data, 10 vehicles exceeded 60 mph in a five-day period in front of the high school on Hwy. 129.
“If we don’t stop that or slow it down or do something, what happens when somebody is out there and gets hit?” Gramley said.
Councilman Mark Mobley said he wants to ensure that data collected from the cameras would not be sold to third parties. A representative from Blue Line who attended the meeting said the company does not sell or retain the data. The data belongs to the city.
Mobley said he wants a “clear definition” of the plan for speed cameras moving forward.
“I would love for us to say, ‘It’s going to be X miles an hour (over the speed limit), it’s going to be this much of a fine, we’re going to have digital displays here’ … I’d love for us to agree at least on those things, so that when we talk to the public before we make any decisions, the public is comparing apples to apples and not misinformation,” he said.
In other business, the council:
•heard a variance request from C&M Commercial Investors to waive a primary building material requirement for property at 1080 Academy Church Road to allow for a commercial shop. The applicant wishes to use metal fascia for two sides of the building instead of using brick on all four sides.
•discussed possible changes to general architectural building requirements in the city’s land use management code. City planner Jerry Weitz said the city staff is concerned about some of the limits on the types of materials allowed for the exteriors of office, institutional and commercial developments. Weitz mentioned that some national restaurant chains use materials not allowed in the city’s codes.
•discussed amending city ordinances to better define guidelines for open burning.
•discussed a resolution to amend and readopt fee schedules for the building, planning and development and fire departments.
•discussed a resolution accepting the dedication of a sanitary sewer line from Aldi, Inc.
•met in closed session to discuss property acquisition. No action was taken.