Jefferson leaders are slated to soon decide whether or not to install automated speed cameras in school zones.
The Jefferson City Council, with a 5-0 vote on Oct. 28, postponed action on the item until its Nov. 18 work session and then make a decision at its Nov. 25 voting meeting.
The postponement will allow the council time to meet with the city school board about the issue. It will also allow time for the city police department to perform its own speed study and for public comments on the issue to be heard at its Nov. 18 meeting.
Jefferson police chief Joe Wirthman requested speed enforcement cameras at the council's Oct. 14 meeting. The devices would detect speeding infractions in school zones and automatically cite violators. The state recently passed a law allowing such automated technology to be placed in school zones.
A representative of Blue Line Solutions, which provides speed cameras, attended the Oct. 14 meeting and addressed the council. Blue Line said it conducted a study in Jefferson which said 11,071 of 16,710 vehicles reached speeds 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in Jefferson’s three school zones.
If the city were to use Blue Line cameras, a two-year contract with the company is required to allow Blue Line to recoup its initial cost for installing the cameras. Blue Line would collect 35 percent of revenue from paid fines generated from speed cameras with the other 65 percent going to the city.
Discussion of speed cameras continued at the Oct. 28 council meeting, though councilmen Malcolm Gramley and Don Kupis asked at the beginning of the meeting the issue be added to the agenda.
Mayor Steve Quinn had requested that the item be tabled until November to allow time to talk with the school board, but Gramley and Kupis wanted to continue discussing the issue at that meeting.
WANTS ANOTHER STUDY
Quinn stressed that the city should conduct its own study, apart from Blue Line’s, to determine the hours when speeding violations occur. He said traffic is typically too congested during school drop-off and pick-up hours for motorists to speed.
“I want to see where all that speeding was happening,” Quinn said.
The city police department plans to conduct its own speed study for a four-to-five-day period.
Councilman Mark Mobley said he’s heard both positive and negative feedback from citizens regarding speed cameras. Mobley, who said he’s in favor of speed cameras in school zones, said he wants to provide an opportunity for those citizens to voice their opinions before the council votes on the item.
“I’m with you guys,” he said. “I want to get this done. I want to have safety … What I want to do is make sure that we don’t rush this through without considering it when the public is giving a lot of feedback.”
Kupis spoke strongly in favor of speed cameras in school zones. He said the inconvenience of a ticket is far outweighed by the danger of speeding near children.
“If one of these people happened to, God forbid, that they hit a child, they’re going to have to live with that the rest of their lives,” Kupis said. “A ticket, they forget about in a month. But you don’t forget about hitting a child or killing a child or putting them in the hospital.”
For those concerned about being ticketed, Kupis said citations likely wouldn’t be issued to those not in excess of 10 mph over the speed limit.
“They’re actually giving us, from what I understand from what the (police) chief said two weeks ago was that he was going to give us a 10 mile-an-hour (cushion),” Kupis said.
If the speed cameras are approved, a desire was expressed amongst the council to see the money generated from the fines go toward safety measures.
Councilman John Howell, who also supported speed cameras in school zones, suggested that revenue be ear-marked to provide street lights for the sidewalks that lead to Jefferson’s schools.
“I would love to see us, as we’re negotiating with the vendor and as we’re talking to the school district, that we look at ear-marking those funds to put some lighting on these sidewalks,” he said. “Any revenue that’s generated. We’re not enriching ourselves as a city. We’re certainly not enriching ourselves as a police department. We have no skin in the game other than protecting our kids and making sure they have a safe route to school, and that this is not a gotcha mentality.”
Quinn said he wants money from the speed-camera fines to go toward starting a safety program at the high school.
“I really don’t want it to be a revenue generator for the police department,” Quinn said. “I really don’t, but I think we can use those funds for very useful things.”
The mayor also said he favored moving forth with the sidewalk street lights.
City manager Priscilla Murphy, who attended a meeting with the vendor about the speed cameras, said funds are designated for public safety only.
CONCERNS EXPRESSED ABOUT CAMERAS
Quinn said he wants “to make our children as safe as possible,” but also expressed concerns about incorporating speed cameras in doing so.
“The Constitution tells us that we can address, if someone has a grievance against us, we can address that person,” Quinn said. “You can’t do that with a speed camera.”
He also said the lapse between an infraction and actual notification of the ticket could be two weeks, during which time a driver could rack up several days’ worth of fines without knowing it. He also expressed concerns with situational issues that could lead to speeding — and fines — in a school zone.
“A lot of times you’re going through that school district, and they have a girl (directing traffic) that waves you through, and she’s pushing you through,” Quinn said. “I mean, I’m talking about waving you, telling you, ‘Hurry up and go through.’ What happens if she’s doing that, and you go 10 (mph) over? You can’t prove that to a (speed) camera that that’s what happened.”
Councilman Malcolm Gramley, however, was less concerned with the concerns of speeders being ticketed.
“If you know the law, and you intentionally break it, you get caught,” he said. “That’s it. Period. Whether you’re in a hurry, whether you’re not in a hurry, it makes no difference. You know what the speed limit is. If you’re not going stay by the speed limit, you deserved to be punished … We need to be doing that, and we need to be doing that now.”
Part of the implementation of speed cameras would include a 30-day warning period. Flashing digital signs would also alert drivers of their speed before entering a speed-camera zone. Additionally, signage would warn motorists approaching a speed-camera monitored area.
The council has been invited to the Jefferson Board of Education’s Nov. 14 meeting, during which it is scheduled to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, city staff will begin preparing a memorandum of understanding with the school system regarding speed cameras and a contract with Blue Line should the council approve speed cameras in November.
In other business conducted Oct. 28, the council:
•voted to authorize Quinn to sign a contract to begin the process of purchasing two small tracts of land adjoining city property on Peach Hill Drive. The action came following a closed session. The price will not exceed $117,500. One tract is approximately an acre, the other is less than half an acre. The city is interested in constructing a new recreation complex on the Peach Hill land, and the additional tracts would allow more space for parking.
•approved a request from Keith Hayes to remove a zoning condition on 2.95 acres on Athens Street that restricts access to Borders Street. This will allow the construction of 16 townhomes. In approving the request, the council added two conditions. The first caps the number of units to 16 on the property. The second stipulates that access to the property shall be through a public or private street that meets local standards for a driveway.
•approved the following budget adjustments: $25,000 to add a dumpster enclosure on the southside of Jefferson’s downtown square; $9,000 to the civic center to cover the cost of repairs for flooding earlier this year; and $18,000 for supplies for roads and grounds and an all-terrain vehicle. Funds for each budget adjustment are available due to recent sales of city property and vehicles.