HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) — Traffic cameras helped a southwest Ohio village speed up its spending before a judge’s order against cameras.
New Miami bought new cars, trucks and equipment before a Butler County judge’s February order to shut off speed cameras. The Middletown-Hamilton Journal-News reports ( ) that village spending from its general fund increased by roughly $430,000 in 2013. That was the only full year the cameras were in use.
Some $210,000 went to vehicles including two 2013 Dodge Chargers and a 2013 Dodge Ram for police, and a new snow plow and Ford truck for the street department.
Common Pleas Judge Michael Sage ruled in favor of motorists who charged that the cameras violated their constitutional rights to due process. He held off on ruling on whether the village would have to refund fines totaling well over $1 million.
The newspaper said village officials declined to say whether they had enough money to pay back motorists if ordered to, but that village documents showed the village had a cash balance of $1.68 million as of March 31.
An outgoing councilman said the village of 2,200 people got a revenue boost for the first time in years, allowing it to make long-overdue upgrades. Paul Stidham said there was no prospect of increasing revenues by through property tax increases.
“There was no money for tires, for gas, for oil changes on the vehicles,” said Stidham, who is taking an out-of-state job. “When this money came in, yes, we got new or refurbished equipment. We had never been able to do that for 20 years …. we kind of did it all at once because we had the speed camera (money) coming.”
There was also additional spending on village staff.
The council voted in August 2012 to go ahead with traffic cameras, saying the police chief needed help policing the streets. Municipalities often defend traffic cameras as making streets safer and allowing police to focus their resources on more serious crimes.
However, opponents say they are usually aimed more at enhancing revenues. The Butler County ruling on New Miami, which neighbors the city of Hamilton, was among a series of recent court cases in Ohio that have gone against traffic camera systems.
The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments in June on a motorist’s challenge to Toledo cameras.