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Picture the Money

By Stephanie Dunlap · December 22nd, 2004 · All The News That Fits
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Letting your meter expire: $25. Parking in a handicapped spot: $250. Watching council members debate balancing the city budget on $2 million of theoretical revenue from theoretical photo radar enforcement to be provided by a theoretical company at some point in the near future: priceless.

Cincinnati City Council passed the city's 2005-06 budget 6-3 before breaking for the holidays Dec. 15.

Mayor Charlie Luken had initially presented a budget that proposed cutting all of the city's $4.8 million human services funding. Council members managed to restore about $2 million to organizations such as the YWCA Battered Women's Shelter, the FreeStore/FoodBank, Bethany House, Caracole House, Prison Reform Advocacy Project and Drop-Inn Center.

The final budget also restored some funds for the African-American Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Cincinnati Film Commission, the Arts Consortium, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission -- oh, and council members' own office budgets.

The city cut $610,000 worth of city positions already vacant, put in $200,000 more for snow removal -- though that's still not up to previous levels of funding -- and set aside more than $370,000 for potential police and fire budget shortfalls.

Photo radar enforcement wasn't even on council's, er, radar until it needed to face up to a deficit rapidly snowballing into many millions.

And that's one reason why, according to many of the cameras' critics, implementing them now is a bad idea.

In fact, Carl Boekman said he was quoting the city's own traffic engineer, Steven Bailey, during public comments to council: "If you do this to generate revenue, it's bound to fail."

Motorists whose license plates get snapped for speeding or running red lights will find a civil fine in the mailbox. But Boekman, who identified himself as a lifetime member of the National Motorists Association, said that once people figure out they don't have to pay it they won't. Ask doctors and hospitals who treat the indigent how many of their bills come back with a check, he said.

"Debtors' prison disappeared years ago," Boekman pointed out.

Besides, it'll cost more to then turn the fines over to a collection agency and the court system than the whole thing will be worth, he said.

Voting against the budget in general and speaking out against the photo traffic enforcement in particular were Vice Mayor Alicia Reece and council members Laketa Cole and Pat DeWine.

"We're doing what every expert who has looked at this, including our own police department, has told us not to do," DeWine said.

That list includes the American Automobile Association, he said.

DeWine also trotted out some logistical problems with what he called council's "budget gimmick."

"We don't have a camera, we don't have a vendor, we don't have a location, but we've already spent the money," he said.

Cole repeatedly said the plan was based on a "wish, hope and promise" that citizens will break the law.

That's ridiculous, according to Councilman David Pepper. The city doesn't encourage illegal parking by issuing parking tickets, he said.

Councilman David Crowley said that the cameras address a safety issue without tying up officers or installing expensive and permanent speed bumps. He cited a decrease in auto fatalities after Washington, D.C., installed cameras.

"In my mind, after all, this is a safety issue," he said. "The fact that this does produce some income is an add-on."

Added on to that add-on is the fact that, unlike criminal traffic tickets, the city won't have to share the income from the fines with the county and other entities, he said. It's nearly pure profit for the city.

At least theoretically.



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