New Miami speed camera program might not be dead

Speed cameras might roll again in New Miami despite an Ohio Supreme Court ruling upholding punitive new laws.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Speed cameras might roll again in New Miami despite an Ohio Supreme Court ruling upholding punitive new laws.

Credit: NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

New Miami’s mayor says the lucrative speed cameras might not be shuttered even after the Ohio Supreme Court upheld punitive new laws that make it financially difficult to reboot the program.

The high court ruled H.B. 62 constitutional on Thursday in a unanimous decision. The law reduced the amount of state financial aid local jurisdictions receive by the amount they collect annually in speed camera ticket revenue. It also mandated the courts handle speed camera citations as civil proceedings that include court fees and costs.

New Miami Mayor Stephanie Chandler said Village Solicitor Dennis Adams is looking into how they can reinstitute the speed catcher program they scuttled when the new law took effect in 2019.

“There is potentially a way we could run the program,” she said adding “it depends on the council if they choose to go that route, it potentially could be operated again.”

State Rep. Bill Seitz, the main architect for the speed camera law — he’s been trying to brake the speed cameras for 17 years — told the Journal-News he expects the high court decision will doom the cameras for good in larger jurisdictions who receive a lot of state funds, but he expects smaller places like New Miami will roll the dice.

“You might get such a small amount of LGF that you would go ahead and have the cameras because you’re funding your entire general fund based on speed camera revenues,” Seitz said. “The only thing we did to try to retard that scam was require them to take their cases to municipal court. But some of them don’t really much care about that either, because they depend on citizens who get these tickets in the mail to pay them.”

The village collected $1.76 million under the new program that started in 2016 — it was halted in 2014 after about 33,000 speeders sued them — but only received $31,973 in local government funds from the state last year, according to Fiscal Officer Belinda Ricketts.

During a court hearing after the village sued the state over the new laws, Ricketts estimated it would cost $612,000 in court fees, and tickets were only generating about $222,000.

Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote this about the decision to uphold the new state laws in the Newburgh Heights appeal, which now applies statewide in the various lawsuits filed over the issue.

“The Home Rule Amendment grants municipalities control over matters of local self-government, but it does not require the General Assembly to pay for it, either directly by appropriation or indirectly through the increased burdens caused by litigating citations based on traffic cameras in the state’s courts,” Kennedy wrote.

“Rather, the Ohio Constitution affords the General Assembly discretion in deciding whether to allocate state funds to municipalities and in setting the costs and fees required for commencing actions in state court, and that discretion includes the decisions to reduce a municipality’s share of the appropriation to local governments by the amount the municipality collects in traffic-camera fines and to require that municipality to pay its own way in collecting them.”

The high court handed the village a win last month when it ended the eight-year, $3.4 million battle over the old speed catcher program. The speeders claimed the Automated Speed Enforcement Program (ASEP) violated their due process rights because an administrative hearing based on what the camera eye had seen was used, rather than court proceedings where they could question witnesses.

The program was re-booted in 2016 with hand-held devises until the new law took effect July 2019.

During the lawsuit against the state village officials said they could be forced to dissolve their police department if they lost the camera revenues. Voters shot down a request for an additional 5-mill levy for five years last November by a margin of 59% to 41% or 74 votes to 51 on Tuesday. The new levy would have reaped $114,456 annually for the village.

Chandler said they are holding their own with only one full-time officer, a part-time police chief and three auxiliary officers, safety is her main goal for reinstating the cameras. Revenues are not her main impetus for restarting the program.

“Me personally, it would be the very least of the priorities,” Chandler said. “We’ve had several accidents right there on 127 coming into to the village, fortunately nobody has been really seriously injured out of pure luck. It is a speed deterrent.”

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