by Tristan Turner
Morinville News Correspondent
Council has unanimously passed a new policy and reviewed administrative procedures that they hope will bring a new approach to photo radar enforcement in Morinville. Following rounds of amendments and changes, the new policy came forward as tensions between Council and Administration on the direction for the photo radar program were high.
These tensions rose after years of resident concerns regarding the implementation of the program, culminating in a narrowly failed plebiscite to scrap radar completely. After the close-call vote, Council has been looking at revamping their approach to the program, advocating for a focus on safety and monitoring school zones instead of ‘high incident areas’ like those at Cardiff Road or near the Pump House.
This advocacy from Council was apparent in previous changes to the program, though they ultimately remained unsatisfied that policy changes had a significant impact. With the adoption of these new policies and procedures, Councillors are changing their tune.
Councillor Brennan Fitzgerald felt this policy change would bring the policy more in line with Council’s wishes. “I’m really liking what I’m seeing here,” a comment and attitude that was reflected across Council throughout the night, a sharp contrast to the previous bemoaning by Council on automated enforcement.
Changes in place
The new policy and procedures make changes that will place limits and minimums on photo enforcement operation time in certain zones throughout Town. The Town’s approach to photo enforcement is unusual in that Council built a policy but requested seeing the Administrative procedures before passing the policy. The procedures dictate a great deal about operator site selection, among other restrictions. Corporate Operations Director David Schaefer asserted that in his research, this type of policy and procedure does not exist anywhere else, and some of it needed to be tailor made for Morinville.
In the new procedures, received for information by Council, a minimum of 20 per cent of enforcement time must be in school zones or playground zones, and a maximum of 60 per cent will be spent enforcing major arterial roads, including Cardiff Road). A significant change is that the RCMP will be responsible for allocating time spent at the various locations, in accordance with the Solicitor General’s guidelines. Schaefer acknowledged that the Town already spends more than 20 per cent of their time enforcing in school zones throughout much of the year, but these changes will allow flexibility for summer months when school is out.
Another change involves a new restriction that will require an enforcement officer to get permission to park in front of fire hydrants or crosswalks in Town before they can do so, following citizen complaints. Schaefer confirmed that this is legal and sometimes advisable when parking is at a premium in an enforcement zone, though the new legislation will require permission first.
The new procedures also require that the enforcement officers will have to file reports when they complete enforcement in an area with detailed information about why it was chosen and the enforcement action taken. Mayor Holmes had a concern that the procedures did not require officers to log the time they spent enforcing an area to the town by time of day. Schaefer said that this would be “impossible to include” providing a level of detail that is too granular. However, they eventually came to an understanding by requesting monthly reports that go to the solicitor general in traffic enforcement that already includes this data, which will be shared with the public online provided the province approves it.
Amendments guide how money is spent
Before passing the policy, there were a number of amendments. Councillor Dafoe’s motion to review photo radar locations every two years rather than every three passed unanimously. Dafoe said that Council intends to “exceed provincial guidelines” with their approach to the transparency of the program.
Another amendment by Councillor Dafoe changes the program so that revenue generation from automated enforcement is required to be directed towards road safety, community programs, and town projects.
This change means the majority of revenues from Automated Traffic Enforcement will be used for traffic, public and pedestrian safety based on the following priorities in order of importance and allocation: 1. Vehicle, pedestrian and public safety including but not exclusive to crossing lights, crosswalks, trail lighting, photo speed sign education etc. 2. Preventative initiatives including but not limited to citizens’ academy, the DARE program, domestic violence prevention, anti-bullying education, Internet and privacy education. 3. Community good initiatives including but not limited to foodbank rent, positive ticketing program, good neighbour program and programming for vulnerable segments of the community. 4. Excess funding will go into reserves to fund asset management on public infrastructure and/or additional public safety or public good opportunities outside of those approved during the annual budget.
Previously revenue from photo radar had been used to pay back town debt on infrastructure projects, with the Morinville Cultural Centre recently being paid off in full thanks to photo radar revenues.
Dafoe’s motion passed 4-3 with Councillors Nicole Boutestein, Gord Putnam, and Deputy Mayor Brennan Fitzgerald opposed to the amendment. Boutestein commented that she was more comfortable continuing to use income from photo radar towards infrastructure debt, saying, “I like the idea… the only concern that I have is we paid off the Cultural Centre in four years with that money, so it’s not like it was squandered. I think we did a great thing for the Town by paying off a $5-million-dollar asset … I think we did a good job with what we did with the money … and we’re looking at building a new rec facility, Maybe we could use some of that money towards that.”
Councillor Turner, on the other hand, felt it was a good thing for the town to have a “reliable source of income for community groups” and backed the change because it was spending that would “build community.”
Councillor Gordon Putnam brought forward a large round of spelling, grammar and clarification changes to the document in order to “ensure the final document is professional,” particularly because he felt many other communities may look to Morinville’s as an example of an alternative to traditional photo enforcement programs. Council unanimously approved these changes.
Mayor Holmes also felt it was vital to include something in the procedure to identify photo radar vehicles as they are operating, like markings or magnets on the vehicle. Schaefer agreed with Holmes but said that the problem was with restrictions from the province.
Schaefer eventually said that he would confirm with the province that it is allowed, and if it is, magnets will be placed on the vehicles with the logo of the Town. Holmes commented she would call for full vehicle wrappings, but that would settle for magnets as Schaefer insisted that wrappings would never be allowed.
Following some other tweaks and comments, the main motion passed unanimously and signaled a dramatic change in photo enforcement policy for Morinville.