In a crowded room of citizens, Longview City Council members Thursday unanimously ended the city’s unpopular school speed zone camera enforcement program, which had been controversial since it began five years ago.
The cameras resulted in the city writing out $4.5 million in fines, more than half of which was used to fund the program itself.
Camera speed enforcement will continue until Dec. 31, when the city’s five-year contract expires.
Citizens questioned whether the cameras improved safety and blasted the city for using it to make money, a concern raised at the very start of the program.
“It morphed into something it wasn’t” supposed to be, said Longview resident Dennis Randolph, who initially supported the program but then turned against it. “The city lost the support of the people.”
Longview Police Chief Jim Duscha said the program kept children safer because police were issuing fewer tickets for higher speeds, showing drivers were slowing down in school zones.
The fines can vary from $124, for driving 1 to 10 mph over the 20 mph school zone speed limit, to $250 for driving 26 mph over the limit.
“If a child is hit at 30 mph, they are not going to survive,” Duscha said. “I do know when the speed goes down it’s safer for pedestrians.”
The city currently has $2.3 million in the public safety fund, money that was raised through camera tickets. The fund will decrease to about $2 million by the end of the year for traffic safety projects that haven’t yet been paid for.
Half of the fines collected were from the Mark Morris High School cameras, which the city recently voted to eliminate in favor of a full traffic signal at Mark Morris Court and 15th Avenue.
The City Council also discussed options for how they were going to use the remaining $2 million in the public safety fund. Council members narrowed the priorities down to school zone improvements or local matching for state grants and streetlights. They eliminated using it to install new wheelchair ramps or roundabouts, removing traffic signals or modifying intersections.
Police suggested using the public safety fund for a “traffic enforcement unit,” which would allocate a sergeant who responds to traffic collisions. Longview had more than 600 vehicle accidents last year.
So far this year, Duscha said collisions have increased 22 percent and traffic infractions are down 35 percent because there aren’t enough boots on the ground. This year there have already been two fatal accidents, according to Longview Police Department. Last year there were two fatal accidents total in the city.
Council members also said they wanted to discuss clarifying the meaning of “traffic safety” for the fund in a separate discussion.
“There is a percentage (of drivers) — and that is a fairly large percentage — that know that they can drive virtually however they want in the city with impunity,” Duscha said. “We’re to the point where we cannot handle any more calls with the staffing that we have. We are beyond the breaking point.”
Council members said they would continue the conversation on where the money will go during upcoming budget workshops.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.