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Going off photo radar carries a big bill

Replacing photo radar with officers could cost $297,000 a year, says town

By: Kevin Ma

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014 06:00 am

REVENUE GENERATOR – Morinville council has learned that cutting out photo radar will cost the town tens of thousands of dollars.
REVENUE GENERATOR – Morinville council has learned that cutting out photo radar will cost the town tens of thousands of dollars.
FILE PHOTO/St. Albert Gazette

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Morinville may have to spend $297,000 a year if it gets rid of photo radar and replaces it with manned enforcement, says the town’s director of corporate operations.

Town council voted unanimously in favour of first reading last week for its proposed photo radar and red light camera bylaw.

The draft bylaw, if passed, would require all traffic enforcement in town to be done by either the RCMP or community peace officers and would forbid them from using photo radar or red-light cameras.

The draft was triggered by a petition from resident Cliff Haryett last year that called on the town to eliminate the use of photo radar and red-light cameras. Under provincial law, council was obliged to give first reading to such a bylaw within 30 days of the petition being declared valid.

The town has had private contractor Independent Traffic Services Ltd. (ITS) track and ticket speeders in Morinville using photo enforcement since 2009. Some residents, such as Haryett, have criticized this as a cash cow.

Staff had to cobble this draft from various definitions because there were few others like it in the region, said town chief administrative officer Debbie Oyarzun. It also needed legal review, as the town’s lawyers were unavailable over the Christmas holiday.

What’s the cost?

Council heard that ITS and the province each take a cut of the revenue the town gets from speed enforcement each year, leaving the town with between $250,000 and $350,000 a year.

Coun. Stephen Dafoe asked Dave Schaefer, the town’s head of corporate operations, what this draft bylaw would cost the town if it passed.

It’s a complex question, Schaefer explained in an interview, as it would completely change the way speed limits are enforced in town.

“We’re really talking apples and oranges,” he said.

Instead of a photo-radar operator mailing someone a ticket, for example, a police officer would pull a driver over, Schaefer said. It would be targeted enforcement on a small number of speeders instead of broad enforcement on a large number of speeders, which means less ticket revenue, he said.

Schaefer said ITS issues about 500 tickets a month and handles all the administrative work that comes with those tickets.

As a typical traffic stop takes about 20 minutes, Morinville would need the equivalent of two full-time positions (RCMP or peace officers) to issue this same number of tickets per month.

Schaefer said the town’s RCMP and peace officers are already maxed-out work-wise, so the town would need to hire two more plus a clerk for the tickets to replace ITS. If it didn’t, the town would either have to skimp on speed enforcement or skimp on everything else.

“We wouldn’t even be able to do other traffic stuff,” he said.

Schaefer said two officers and a clerk would cost the town about $297,072 a year.

Two peace officers and a clerk would cost $234,900 a year, plus a one-time cost of about $75,000 to buy the officers a patrol car – a year-one total of $309,900.

How does this stack up to what the town currently pays ITS? Schaefer said the town technically doesn’t pay anything in terms of tax dollars, as ITS is paid through its share of ticket revenue.

For legal reasons, Schaefer said he was unable to publicly disclose the size of this share, but information provided to the Gazette suggests it is tens of thousands of dollars less than what the town would pay to do speed enforcement with its own clerk and two officers.

Schaefer told council that there is no guarantee that the town will get a new officer anytime soon, as it will be up to the RCMP to decide where to send its new recruits.

Council chose to have the draft come back for second and potentially third reading at next week’s meeting. (The alternative was to hold a plebiscite on it. Returning officer Jennifer Maskoske said that would cost about $8,000.)

In an interview, Mayor Lisa Holmes said her greatest concerns on the proposed bylaw were budget based, as the costs of eliminating photo enforcement are significant.

“How significant will the tax increase have to be in order to recover the funds we lose by eliminating photo radar as an enforcement tool?”

Under provincial law, council now has until Feb. 13 to either pass or defeat this proposed bylaw.


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