Council approves moving forward with photo enforcement

Council approves moving forward with photo enforcement
By: Sean Dieterich, The Independent

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SHOW LOW - The City Council voted to award a five-year contract to a Phoenix traffic monitoring company for a photo enforcement system during a regular meeting Nov. 18.

Show Low Police Chief Jeffrey Smythe said the system, implemented by Redflex Traffic Systems, will enhance traffic safety and allow police to "proactively enforce the traffic laws." He said in a one-month period this past summer Show Low saw three fatal traffic accidents, which is a serious issue.
"It impacts our community at a significant level when someone dies in a traffic accident," he said.
Smythe said the police department is adequately staffed but not usually for increased traffic issues. With the city acting as the junction of several highways, a photo enforcement system would achieve the department's goal of making the streets coming into the city safer, he said.
A photo enforcement program would require a traffic enforcement unit of one sergeant and three officers to handle it. Two court clerks would also be needed to process the additional tickets and fines. However, the city would have no unrecoverable costs, as the program would be paid for with offender money.
"Not one single new dollar is thrown into this," he said.
Mayor Rick Fernau said he believed photo enforcement systems have been shown to reduce traffic fatalities, but added he was concerned with the upfront costs of hiring new staff.
"Can we get into this with getting our feet wet rather than jumping in headfirst?" he asked.
Smythe said the city would need at least one new court clerk to handle the increased influx of reports. Meanwhile, any new officers would have to be trained in the system, requiring current officers to handle the duties in the interim and collect overtime pay.
Starting up, with all of the staff mentioned, would cost $219,000. If the city were to phase it in, hiring enough staff to initially implement the system, he said the city could probably knock $70,000 off the initial cost.
Vice Mayor Rennie Crittenden said he believed any new personnel hiring should be done at budget time. He was in favor of phasing it in and "then seeing what we have."
City Manager Ed Muder said the city would more than likely phase in the new system to make sure the revenues were there.
"This program will pay for itself, but I want to be sure of that before we make any expenditures," he said. "I personally would take a more cautious look at it."
Smythe said the plan called for installing cameras out on the main roads and putting officers on the neighborhood roads, knowing accidents occur there as well. He said putting the cameras near the main intersections would reduce the top speed of motorists coming into town, from Globe and Payson for example, and reduce the number of collisions.
"I don't want to go out to any more fatal accidents," he said.
Councilman Gene Kelley said while the cameras could impact safety, it could also raise citizens' "big brother" concerns. He wanted to know how much it would cost the city in the long term.
Smythe said photo enforcement does change attitudes since it provides the threat of action. While there will be a warning period, he also expects an initially high violator ratio. While local motorists will catch on, he said visitors coming into town will be caught more often than not.
"It's all the pass-through (motorists) that will continue to have violations," he said.
A few residents shared Kelley's concerns. Dennis Brown said he believed the cameras infringed on peoples' right to privacy.
"I agree something needs to be done with traffic enforcement," he said. "But I'm against the 24/7 video."
Michael Allsop said he was concerned with a machine monitoring motorists rather than an actual person. He said he knows safety is an issue on Show Low streets but he believes it can be impacted with officers on the street and various speed-measuring equipment.
"We can save lives by putting police officers on the street," he said.
Resident Tom Kakavas agreed, saying measures to increase traffic safety would mean nothing if officers were not out on the street enforcing the laws, especially when local motorists travel on the back roads to avoid the cameras. He asked if the council had addressed a potential loss of revenue from motorists avoiding Show Low and their cameras.
Kakavas added that speed was not a factor in the three fatal accidents mentioned.
Councilman Gerry Whipple wondered where the city budget was to address new expenditures. He thought it was too early to make a decision after only a couple of discussions, the first being held at the City Council retreat back in October.
"How do we make this fit in an already approved budget?" he asked. "I'm still on the fence."
Fernau made the motion to award the contract, with the city manager approving any hiring needed. It was approved 5-2, with Whipple and Councilwoman Virginia Evans voting in opposition.
Crittenden said the decision would not put cameras on the street immediately, but allow police and city staff to move forward in deciding how the program can best be implemented.
"That's all we're doing, (saying) city manager, police chief, make it work," he said.
After the meeting, Smythe said city staff is working to determine the best locations and the number of staff needed initially. The city is tentatively looking at implementing the system in January with a warning period before any citations would be issued.
"Our focus is education and voluntary compliance," he said.

As part of the consent calendar, councilors unanimously approved:
- The purchase of two new buses to be used in the city's public transit system, as it is expanding to Holbrook in 2009. The total price is $180,361.20, but due to a grant from the Arizona Department of Transportation the city is paying only $1,300.

In other council action:
- The council voted 7-0 to appoint incumbents Bob Saner and Renea Isaacs and newcomer Trent Sakamoto to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
- The council voted unanimously to award a professional services contract to Ironside Engineering, not exceeding $30,000, for a sidewalk and path stretching from Pineglen to Fawnbrook, subject to approval that Show Low can use the $250,000 in ADOT funds initially granted to Pinetop-Lakeside for the project. At that time it was a joint project between Show Low, Pinetop-Lakeside and Navajo County, but the two other agencies have dropped out of the project. The $250,000 was initially given to the City of Show Low to manage the project.

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