Liberty Township to adopt speed camera program


By Sarah Lehr

slehr@vindy.com

LIBERTY

Liberty Township will become the latest in a series of local communities to adopt a handheld radar speed-camera program.

Trustees voted unanimously this week to enter into a contract with Optotraffic, a private company based in Latham, Md., for the program.

Because of state law prohibiting unmanned speed cameras, Liberty’s speed camera must be operated by a police officer. The speeder later receives a ticket in the mail. Optotraffic is responsible for mailing the citations. The citations are civil, meaning they carry a fine but do not count against a speeder’s driving record.

Because an officer using the camera does not need to pull someone over, Liberty Police Chief Richard Tisone said the camera will free up officers to patrol the streets.

With 16 full-time officers, down from 24 about eight years ago, Tisone said the department rarely has the manpower to dedicate staff specifically to traffic patrol.

Tisone acknowledged concerns about a reduction in traffic stops. Traffic stops can lead to arrests for other offenses such as drug or illegal firearm possession.

The township will focus speed-camera use on four areas: state Route 11, state Route 193, state Route 304 and a Shady Road school zone, according to Tisone.

Though he said the primary objective is to slow motorists and reduce accidents, Tisone added, “We could use the money.”

The township ended May with a $160,348 general fund deficit, according to a report submitted by fiscal officer Steve Shelton. Though the township has a positive balance of $689,766 aggregated from all funds, the general fund is crucial because local governments often use it to subsidize other funds. The police department closed the month with a $133,985 balance. The township is in fiscal caution, as determined by the Ohio auditor.

Negotiations have not been finalized, but the township expects to receive 65 percent of fine revenue. Optotraffic will retain the remaining 35 percent. The company will provide the township with one camera initially and pay for 37 signs, mandated under Ohio law, to warn drivers about the camera.

During the first four months of this year, Youngstown, through Optraffic, issued about $308,387 in fines from 3,827 civil speeding camera citations. The city collected about $200,444 of that revenue.

Currently, a substantial portion of fines collected from Liberty traffic stops go to Girard Municipal Court. The civil citations would allow the township to bypass that process.

There will be a flat rate $100 fine for exceeding the speed limit by at least 11 miles per hour, along with additional fees for late payment and speeding in school zones. Drivers will have the option to appeal the citations before a hearings administrator. Tisone estimates the camera will be on the road this July. State law mandates a warning period before charging fines.