Written by Kelly Kaczala
July 10, 2009
Northwood City Council voted against renewing contract negotiations with a company that provides the city’s speed van, a mobile vehicle that issues citations to motorists for speeding.
Council on July 2 voted 6-1 to stop contract negotiations with Redflex Safety Solutions, of Arizona, to continue providing a van equipped with a camera that targets Northwood streets with a high incidence of speeding.
At the same meeting, council voted 4-3 to continue contract negotiations with Redflex for the stationary speed and red light photo enforcement cameras that have been installed at the intersections of Lemoyne and Woodville roads and Oregon and Wales roads since 2005.
“I do not believe the speed van contributes to safety in the city,” Councilman Ed Schimmel said after the meeting. “The van has essentially been losing money over the past year, and in these tough economic times that is unacceptable.”
As a result, the speed van is commonly placed on I-75 and I-280 to raise revenues, said Schimmel, who is chairman of the city’s Safety Committee.
“This is not an appropriate use of a tool intended to guard residential streets against speeders,” said Schimmel. “It is my belief that a better alternative is the old fashioned method of having police officers ticket speeders. That way, you have a positive identification of the offender, proper notification of the violation, and criminal/traffic charges are appropriately filed against them. Lastly, our community cannot afford to continue sending money to a company based in Arizona. These are funds leaving our local economy never to return.”
Councilman Dave Gallaher was also opposed to the speed van.
“The stationary cameras, I don’t have a problem with at all,” Gallaher said at the meeting. “The [police] chief made a good decision on where he put them – by a school and a busy intersection. I think they are doing the job. I’m very concerned about the van. I’m not convinced the van is doing the kind of work we need to do.”
He said he was concerned about a proposal to use a robot in the van that would monitor speeding 24 hours per day.
“It probably appears it’s a better deal because we’re not paying an hourly rate. But that doesn’t make me more comfortable. I’m wondering if having a police officer who can use a little more discretion can be a better thing,” said Gallaher.
“I agree with Dave,” said Councilman Connie Hughes. “The stationary cameras are in places they’re needed the most.” If the city wants to eliminate the van, she added, it should inform Police Chief Tom Cairl to stop negotiations with Redflex.
Councilman Mike Myers, who, along with Administrator Pat Bacon, was also part of the negotiations with Redflex, supported the speed van because “it moves in a lot of different areas.”
He dismissed Gallaher’s concerns about equipping the van with a robot, saying it was never a seriously possibility.
“That robotic was just something new that came out because of a situation that happened out west. It wasn’t something we were proposing or something we were really looking at. It’s something they threw out at us – if you want it, okay. If you don’t, you don’t,” said Myers.
The city leases the van from Redflex. That would have stopped had negotiations continued, said Myers.
“We were looking at not having to pay for it anymore. It would have been free of charge,” he said.
Council President Randy Kozina said he opposes both the speed van and stationary cameras because they take “much too much money out of our economy.”
“We sent over $1 million to Arizona. That was the last figure that the police chief gave me. And $1 million out of our economy - from little Northwood - is a lot of money,” said Kozina.
Myers noted that the revenue the city receives from the van and cameras has been used for public safety purposes in the city.
“I agree, but it’s at a heck of a cost,” said Kozina.
Law Director Brian Ballenger said the city initially sought the speed van and cameras to improve public safety. “It was not a revenue generating thing,” he said.
Council’s decision should be based on whether the van and cameras are indeed improving public safety. “If not, then your decision is easy,” he said.
Councilmen who voted in favor of authorizing Cairl to continue negotiations on the red light cameras with Redflex were James Barton, Hughes, Gallaher and Myers. Opposed were Schimmel, Dean Edwards, and Kozina.
Councilman Myers was the lone vote in favor of continuing negotiations with Redflex on the speed van.
Mayor Mark Stoner said after the meeting that he had never received complaints from businesses about losing customers as a result of motorists who may be avoiding the city because of the Redflex cameras and speed van.
The contract with Redflex expires in January.