New Miami could be on hook for speed cam money

Posted at 8:33 PM, May 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-13 20:33:28-04

NEW MIAMI, Ohio -- Lawyers for people who won a $1.8 million judgment against New Miami for its speed cameras now want to garnish proceeds the village is collecting from a new speed camera program to ensure their clients are paid.

The motion accuses the village of trying to “defraud creditors” by contracting with an out-of-state company, Blue Line Systems of Tennessee, to collect fines, according to WCPO media partner the Journal-News.

“An intent to defraud creditors can be inferred from the fact that, without an attachment, New Miami will likely not have the assets to satisfy the judgment,” the motion, filed late last week with Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Oster, reads. “News reporting has suggested that New Miami has spent much of the funds from the operation of the ASEP (Automated Speed Enforcement Program) on upgrading village cars, giving raises to employees and paying out-of-pocket health insurance expenses for employees.”

Retired Judge Michael Sage declared New Miami’s speed cameras unconstitutional in March 2014, and the case has been in an out of the common pleas and appellate courts. The village has now asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review.

The village collected $1.8 million during the 15 months the cameras were rolling.

Before the ban was issued, village officials used the new-found funds to give raises, upgrade vehicles and pick up the tab for health insurance for employees, spending roughly $430,000 more from 2012 to 2013. The village put the brakes on spending last year, slashing $825,000 out of the 2014 budget.

The village budget in 2014 was $1.7 million, and in 2015 it dropped to $1.5 million with revenues expected to reach $1.1 million. Earlier in 2015 Fiscal Officer Belinda Ricketts said the village had a $2.16 million cash balance for all funds. She has said she is not allowed to comment on this issue.

The village commissioned a safety study that shows there were 26 accidents on the road from 2009 to 2013. A two-day speed survey in March 2015 showed 7,217 drove under the 35 mph speed limit; 8,035 sped between 36 and 40 mph and 2,456 people drove between 41 and 45 mph. There were 433 people who drove 10 miles or more over the limit and three people drove 61 mph or faster.

Brenda Gailey was doing yard work Friday afternoon, and she told the Journal-News the village doesn’t need to corral speeders; they need to clean up the place. When she heard the village has spent $80,000-plus on attorneys fees for the lawsuit and collected $1.8 million from the cameras she said there are better ways to spend the money.

“I think the money should be spent on cleaning up of the village,” she said. “That’s just a waste, this little town got two maybe three stop lights, there’s nobody speeding through here.”

The plaintiff’s motion noted a Journal-News article from 2014 when former village council member Paul Stidham said the only reason the village installed the cameras was because they were money-makers for the impoverished hamlet.

“There’s only two ways to raise revenues: you’ve got the damn speed cameras, and you’ve got property taxes. (Raising property taxes) that’s not going to happen in New Miami. People just don’t pay their taxes in New Miami,” Stidham said.

Audit reports filed by state Auditor Dave Yost showed the village had a general fund balance of $383,882 at the end of 2011 before the stationary cameras were installed and $1.7 million at the end of 2013.

Earlier this year the village reinstated cameras of a hand-held variety that are manned by patrol officers. On any given day a patrol vehicle can be seen tucked between buildings on the main drag. The village would not immediately release how much money has been collected under the new regime. Village Solicitor Dennis Adams said he hadn’t seen the garnishment motion so he couldn’t comment on it.

Josh Engel, one of the plaintiff’s attorneys, said they had no choice but to try and garnish the new revenues.

“We filed this motion to make sure that the motorists who paid citations under the scheme that the judge declared to be unconstitutional can be compensated,” Engel said. “We are concerned that New Miami will use the revenue from the new ordinance to continue an increased level of spending rather then pay back what is owed people.”

This report was originally filed by WCPO media partner Journal-News. Read the original report here.