Bibb buys 10 radar guns for state troopers
By Keich Whicker - firstname.lastname@example.org
Radar guns are a touchy subject at the Bibb County Courthouse.
Sheriff Jerry Modena has said he doesn't think the county should be using Bibb County tax money to buy outside agencies radar guns for traffic enforcement.
But that's exactly what happened earlier this week when the commissioners overlooked Modena's objections and approved almost $30,000 to purchase 10 radar guns for the Georgia State Patrol.
"They're funded by the state," Modena said, referring to the state troopers who cruise Georgia's roadways. "The state has decided not to buy them these radar guns. ... So why (is the county) buying them?"
The answer, commissioners said, has to do with economics and public safety.
Talking about traffic enforcement in economic terms that mention how much money the county collects from citations is controversial, but the topic is never too far behind the "keeping the public safe" theme.
Commissioner Elmo Richardson, for example, said buying the radar guns "made good economic sense." The county, he argued, has seen a "fairly substantial" return for the $10,000 it invested in the three radar guns it purchased last year for the state patrol.
State Court Solicitor Otis Scarbary agreed.
"They have certainly made more cases (than in past years)," he said, referring to the 3,000 or so traffic citations his office processed last year after they were issued to local drivers by state troopers. "That would be the most that I can ever recall (state troopers) writing ... and I've been up here for a long time. They have always written tickets in Bibb County but never to this degree. ... I'm confident those three radar units were paid for many times over."
Modena, along with other officials at the sheriff's office, said Bibb County deputies write more tickets than the state patrol - and the latest figures support those claims. During the past fiscal year, sheriff's deputies wrote 9,555 traffic citations that generated more than $1.1 million in revenue, while the state patrol wrote just 3,152 citations that collected more than $414,000 in revenue, officials said.
When the commissioners made the decision last year to purchase the three guns, Modena complained about their hypocrisy, saying that Bibb's elected leaders were continually asking the departments funded by the county to "tighten the belt." Meanwhile, the commissioners were handing out money to state agencies they have no constitutional responsibility to fund.
Defending last year's decision to purchase the guns, Commission Chairman Charlie Bishop said other counties in the state are starting to help the state patrol,which has seen its budget become the victim of recent state spending cuts. In Houston County, for example, commissioners have discussed buying radios for the state patrol post in Perry that would enable local law enforcement to communicate with agencies outside the county.
However, helping out a state agency or a state project that is short of a few dollars is not something that usually interests Bibb's commissioners. Most of the time, commissioners and other local officials complain about "unfunded mandates" from the state - projects the state passes into law without appropriating enough money to cover the projects' costs. Typically, commissioners voice their dismay at being asked to pick up the tab - or even part of the tab - for any project that is decided in Atlanta and complain they have little or no input.
The idea to purchase the radar guns came from Scarbary, who approached the county last year after troopers at the state patrol post in Forsyth asked him to help them secure some funding, "since they do so much law enforcement in the county." This year, the troopers themselves came to the county.
Sgt. Lee Majors, the commander of the patrol post in Forsyth, said the purchase of the 10 guns would allow the troopers to have a unit assigned to Bibb County every day of the week.
"The fines are a strong indication of how much we've been working," he said, arguing that more radar guns would help create an "omnipresence" that lets commuters know the state patrol "is here."
Modena, who complained about losing two motorcycles and four patrol cars from his operating budget during this past summer's hearings, said he could patrol more than the local state troopers - who work in several midstate counties - and increase the number of citations if the county purchased another vehicle for him.
The commissioners rejected that argument, saying that buying another vehicle for the sheriff didn't make as much economic sense, because it obligated them to equip the vehicle, hire a new deputy and pay that deputy's salary and benefits.
In other words, spending $30,000 on radar guns offered more of a return on their investment of funds.
"When you cut (my budget) and you subsidize (the state patrol), something is terribly, terribly wrong," Modena responded.
To contact writer Keich Whicker, call 744-4494.
traffic tickets were written by Bibb County sheriff's deputies during the past fiscal year, generating
The Georgia State Patrol wrote
citations that generated more than