Rogers votes to add traffic cameras

ROGERS – Traffic cameras could be arriving in Rogers sometime this summer, unless the Ohio Supreme Court says otherwise or Village Council changes its mind.

Village Council voted at this week’s meeting to contract with Maryland-based Optotraffic LLC, which manufactures and operates automated machines that catch speeding motorists and other traffic offenders using laser-radar technology and cameras.

Representative Dorian Grubaugh told council it would take at least two months to perform the necessary field work before Optotraffic would be in a position to begin providing the service. Rogers would become the first community in Columbiana County with traffic cameras.

“Personally, I think we need to do something. We don’t have any law enforcement,” said Council member Jayne Balmenti. “I just don’t see how we can go wrong.”

Optotraffic operates and maintain the $80,000 portable machines, which Grubaugh said would initially be programmed only to monitor for speeding violations. The company would issue the speeding citations in return for 40 percent of the fine money. In a previous presentation to council, he said the average speeding fine in Ohio is $100, plus another $25 for administrative costs, with Rogers keeping $75.

Rogers would be required to retain the services of a law enforcement officer to sign off on the citations and an attorney to conduct the administrative hearings for motorists who want to contest the citation. Grubaugh said the money generated by the tickets should be more than enough to cover those expenses.

What about vehicle owners who claim they were not driving when the camera snapped a photograph of their vehicles’ license plates as the vehicle was speeding through town? Grubaugh said Ohio law allows the owner to be held liable regardless of who was driving since this is civil citation instead of a criminal offense.

The next step would be for council to adopt a proposed ordinance, which would allow traffic tickets to be issued as civil citations through Optotraffic under contract with the village.

Grubaugh said council can cancel the contract at any time and the cameras would be turned off within a day or so, although Optotraffic would need three months to complete processing tickets issued up to that date.

He said there would also be a period where the public will be warned in advance when the system will become operational, including signs posted in town. There there will likely also be a two-week grace period once the machines go online before tickets would start being issued.

Council was poised to hire Optotraffic last summer until Village Solicitor Michelle Simonelli said they needed to seek competitive bids. She prepared a lengthy contract that drew no interest from companies, including Optotraffic. Grubaugh indicated none of the other communities where they operate required competitive bidding.

Simonelli has since quit, and council is moving forward regardless of her advice, although Council member Michael Hunt said they need to find a new village solicitor to review the Optotraffic contract, which is what he plans to do.

“I think we need to run this past an attorney and then call a special meeting in two weeks,” Hunt said.

Grubaugh said the contract can always be amended later to reflect whatever changes the new solicitor may want, but he recommended approving the contract now so Optotraffic can begin performing the preliminary work.

Council also expressed some concern about the recent rash of lawsuits challenging the use of traffic cameras in other Ohio communities, where some local judges have ordered them shut down. While the state Supreme Court has upheld the use of traffic cameras in the past, the recent lawsuits are coming at it from a different legal angle: Are motorists being denied due process under the law because the offenses do go not go through municipal court and before a judge?

There is an appeal currently pending before the Supreme Court, and Grubaugh is confident the court will again uphold the legality of traffic cameras. And as for the chances a ban will be enacted by the state legislature, “That’s not going to happen,” he said, adding that Optotraffic is already in compliance with proposed changes being contemplated by the legislature.

Grubaugh said the bottom line is traffic cameras will result in a reduction in accidents by cutting down on the number of motorists speeding through the village.

Council member Tom Chambers said there is no question they need to do something to slow traffic. “I came through town one night and was passed at the Dollar General,” he said.