by Tristan Turner
Town Council discussed the municipality’s Automated Traffic Enforcement Policy at their Apr. 19 Committee of the Whole meeting, with fiery comments to match. The issue was one of heated debate and interest both before and after the plebiscite vote two years ago decided to keep the controversial traffic enforcement tactic.
The discussion came following a report from Administration, given by Director of Corporate Operations David Schaefer, which overviewed the Town’s photo enforcement policy, seeking feedback from Council.
Most of the discussion was around concerns Council had about the perception that the program is about money for the Town, rather than safety. Councillor Stephen Dafoe repeatedly brought up Cardiff Road and other parts of town where he said, “Clearly, there’s some gravy going on,” and brought up the potential of a system where enforcement hours cannot be higher in any one zone than the amount spent in any one school zone in the town.
Currently, the majority of photo enforcement revenue is used to pay down approximately $800,000 in remaining debt on the Cultural Centre. Dafoe suggested that more of the money raised through the program should be spent on capital investments to improve road safety, including proposed rumble strips on Cardiff Road, repainting pedestrian crossings, or pedestrian crossing lights, including the $125,000 project budgeted for 107 Street and 100 Avenue. “Then I think we could show to the public [that it is about safety],” Dafoe said.
“If this project is about cash, then it’s about cash. If it’s about safety, it’s about safety. I just think that we should be clear with the public on what it is actually about.”
Schaefer responded saying “If this project is a cash cow, that cow’s pretty lean,” commenting on a decreasing rate on offences being sent despite increases in traffic flows in high-speed areas of town. He further clarified that officers working on traffic enforcement are not paid a percentage of each ticket they write, they are paid an hourly rate. Further, while the photo radar company is paid a percentage of tickets, their system is automated and sends tickets when their systems detect speeding, so they “have no way to pad their books.”
Councillor Turner asked Administration to focus on the policy itself, asking that public concerns about enforcement practices being more about enforcement income than safety be reflected in real changes to the policy. He encouraged more controls and language to be put in the policy to reflect the policy as a safety program, not about revenue generation.
During the discussion, Councillor Boutestein brought up the possibility of introducing controls in the policy to direct the program to spend more time in high-risk areas like school zones rather than high-speeding areas like Cardiff Road. Mayor Holmes responded by suggesting a scoring system that could be used for every site, assigning points to different priorities of the program and reporting the value of each chosen site to Council and the community.
As well, Councillor Putnam’s concerns were related to capturing the public’s frustration with the program and seeing real change in how it is operated. “Where the water gets muddy here, is if the program was just about safety and there was no revenue generated from the program, we would have an easier time [supporting it], and I think the public would have an easier time supporting it if it wasn’t about generating revenue,” Putnam said.
Putnam also had concerns about the installation of more and more technologies, including red light cameras, and was worried if they kept being tied into revenue generation for the town, the safety component of the program could become lost on the public.
“I think that’s a real slippery slope because you’ve got a safety issue, and you’ve got what revenue is generated from that on the side… we’ve got to be proactive and see why [other communities] are getting rid of photo radar, it’s because we keep hitting the public with [violations]… and eventually, they could say, forget about this whole thing,” Putnam said.
Dafoe at one point during the meeting clarified that photo enforcement was brought to Morinville following a vote of Council, and suggested it could also be removed by a vote of Council.
The answer from Administration was yes, but Mayor Holmes redirected the conversation.
The discussion concluded with Councillor Putnam saying that Council’s concerns should be worked into policy at a future Administrative workshop session between Administration and Council before coming back to a Council meeting.