February 9, 2016

Proposal diverts camera fines to state road construction

Traffic camera in Des Moines.

Traffic camera in Des Moines.

Two members of the Iowa House have advanced a bill to siphon off some of the fines paid by those caught speeding or running a red light by a camera.

The bill would deposit some of the fines in a state fund that finances road and bridge construction, but only after the vendors who manage the cameras and the cops who view the videotapes are paid.

Representative Walt Rogers, a Republican from Cedar Falls, has tried to ban the cameras altogether before, without success, and this is an alternative he’s pushing this year.

“I worry that we continually go down this road of utilizing a process that creates this hate with citizens and their police departments,” Rogers said late this afternoon, “so I hope to alleviate that, a little bit, by alleviating the revenue issues.”

Rogers held a public hearing on the issue this afternoon, then he and another Republican legislator voted to put the proposal before a House committee. Representative Pat Murphy, a Democrat from Dubuque, isn’t ready to sign off on the idea yet, but Murphy asked officials from the seven cities that have traffic enforcement cameras a question about the bill.

“So there wouldn’t be any motivation for yous to run these cameras anymore, then. Is that accurate or not, because one of the motivations is money, isn’t it?” Murphy said, asking: “Is that accurate?”

The police chiefs of Clive and Windsor Heights said the ultimate goal is traffic safety and the automated cameras are employed in high traffic areas to change driver behavior. Michael Venema worked in the Davenport Poice Department, a city which employs traffic cameras and, in June, Venama became police chief in Clive, a Des Moines suburb that has traffic cameras enforcement cameras.

“I get very tired of talking about it. I’ve been talking about this for nine years and, you know, sometimes I wish it would go away so I didn’t have to talk about it, but I believe in it, so I’m going to keep coming back and I’m going to keep fighting for this and because I think it’s the right thing to do,” Venama said.

Windsor Heights Police Chief Dennis McDaniel echoed those sentiments.

“If this legislation goes into play, we won’t discontinue our programs,” McDaniel told the subcommittee.”I’ve said from the very beginning that this is safety, and while there is an off-set of revenue associated with that, I’m not the chief revenue officer. I’m the chief police officer and my job is to make sure that I have a safe community and well-balanced resources.”

Officials warned the bill could lead to property tax increases in the cities which are using fines from traffic enforcement cameras to hire more police and buy equipment for first responders.

It’s unclear exactly how much money the state would reap from the change legislators envision. The City of Des Moines pays the vendor that manages its traffic cameras a little more than half of the fines, plus the city spends 275-thousand dollars a year to pay cops to review potential violations before tickets are issued. That leaves about a million dollars that would be diverted to the state’s road construction fund if the bill becomes law.

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