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Police & Fire

Out-of-town drivers fill Toledo's speed camera coffers

City on track to collect more than $4.3 million from handheld devices

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    Toledo police officer Tyson Phelan checks the speed of vehicles with a handheld speed detector on I-75 south of the Collingwood Boulevard exit in the central city.

    THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
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    THE BLADE
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Lead-foot drivers are filling Toledo’s coffers faster than officials had projected, and the money is primarily coming from out-of-towners zipping through the city.

Mayor Paula Hicks-Hudson acknowledged to The Blade that the city likely would have more money than expected this year — as much as $6 million above budgeted amounts.

The greater cash flow comes from lower-than-expected health-care costs, reduced workers’ compensation costs, and greater-than-anticipated income taxes. 

The controversial pot of money also comes from millions generated by handheld speed cameras.

RELATED: Councilmen hit wall on budget questions | Toledo has millions in unspent money

The mayor budgeted $2.3 million from fines this year generated by handheld speed cameras.

It collected $1.84 million by the end of May, putting it on track to collect more than $4.3 million by the end of 2017 if the same numbers of speeders are nailed with those tickets monthly.

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Toledo police officer Tyson Phelan checks the speed of vehicles with a handheld speed detector on I-75 south of the Collingwood Boulevard exit in the central city.

THE BLADE/JETTA FRASER
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Part of that money has already been spent. Toledo City Council last week approved the mayor’s plan to spend $250,000 more to hire new police officers a month earlier this year, from August to July.

The mayor said the extra money from speeding offenses appeared to be coming from out-of-town wallets.

“The good news is ... because of handheld speed,” Mayor Hicks-Hudson said on May 26. “I asked the [police] chief and most of them are folks driving through, so we are getting them on the expressway and folks are continuing to pay ... and we are moving up the police class up a month because of this revenue we are projecting.”

Records show nearly 46 percent of the tickets were sent to Toledoans between Jan. 1 and May 26. The Blade requested the information on May 29 and it was released by the city on June 23.

Toledo Police issued 29,615 tickets with the handheld devices during that period. Of those citations, 13,574 were sent to the registered owners of vehicles with Toledo mailing addresses.

The citations, which cost $120, also went to 1,281 vehicle owners from Perrysburg, 1,261 from Sylvania, 752 from Oregon, 706 from Maumee, and 235 from Bowling Green. The data showed 772 addresses from Tulsa, Okla., nearly all with the same street address — a vehicle rental company.

Citation data

Under an agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems — the Arizona firm that also maintains Toledo’s stationary-camera system and keeps a percentage of those fines — the city is paid $90.25 for the first 50 paid tickets each month and $100 for every ticket after that each month from each handheld device.

The city started the handheld program with four devices leased from Redflex but now has eight.

0702A1SpeedCameraCitations

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Of the 29,615 citations issued this year through May 29, 22,690 were highway tickets issued to vehicles traveling on I-280, I-475, and I-75. That is where out-of-towners are nailed at a much higher rate than Toledoans. Of those 22,690 highway tickets, 8,401 went to Toledo addresses — 37 percent — and the rest went to people living outside the city, according to the data.

There were 6,925 of the handheld speed tickets issued to motorists on local streets. Of those, 5,173 went to Toledoans — increasing the percentage to 74.7 percent.

Toledo police Lt. Jeff Sulewski said officers use the speed cameras to create a safer driving environment.

“On the expressways, we seem to get a lot of out-of-towners but when we run secondary streets, we will get mostly Toledo or Toledo-area residents,” Lieutenant Sulewski said.

The point of the the city’s stationary camera system — which catches speeders and red light runners — and the subsequent handheld cameras was to reduce those infractions, he said.

“It doesn’t seem to be slowing down,” Lieutenant Sulewski said. “But one of my officers told me in some of the areas he is working the speeds are going down. He is now getting speeds in the 70s, not the 80s.”

The cameras are set to issue a ticket once a vehicle exceeds the speed limit by 11 miles per hour, he said.

“Even in the school zones, we go at 11 over,” Lieutenant Sulewski said. “We are not looking to nickel and dime people, but if you are more than 10 over, you are not looking what you are doing or driving too fast.”

Toledo Councilman Larry Sykes got one of those 29,615 tickets. He was caught speeding on Dorr Street in front of Little Flower Elementary School at 2:12 p.m. Feb. 1. 

Councilman Tyrone Riley also was caught speeding on southbound I-75 at 1:34 p.m. on March 22. Rob Ludeman was ticketed for speeding in front of Byrnedale Elementary School at 9:01 a.m. Feb. 1.

Mr. Ludeman received the speeding ticket but the citation was later dismissed because neither the police officer operating the camera nor Mr. Ludeman were in the zone when the speed above 20 miles per hour was recorded.

Mr. Ludeman said he gave the ticket to Police Chief George Kral to handle it rather than appearing for an appeal hearing.

The citation data obtained by The Blade showed many repeat offenders.

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Abbey Kontak has been nailed four times this year driving on I-75 or I-475 from her home in Point Place to her business, All Juice at 3115 Sylvania Ave.

“I think it can definitely be a positive use, however things like the construction zones where it drops to 50 from 60 and you don’t remember, I think that is a little unfair,” she said. “It would be more positive if it was used for excessive speed limits. ... It is a lot of money.”

Of the 29,615 tickets this year through May 29, 5,701 were too new to be challenged by the vehicle owners; 370 were dismissed; 6,103 were listed at “full default,” and 641 were sent to collections.

More than 1,200 vehicle owners “nominated” another person as the driver who was speeding. Many of the rental vehicles registered in Tulsa fell into that category.

The city holds appeal hearings, during which drivers argue why they shouldn’t be required to pay.

A citation was dismissed during a hearing Thursday when the motorist told the officer she was on her way to take a sick dog to the animal hospital where she works. She was driving 54 miles per hour in a 35 zone. Another driver, Yvette Stephens, had her ticket dismissed because the citation said she was southbound when she was actually westbound on I-475.

Ms. Stephens was clocked at 61 in a 50 mph zone, but she said she was not speeding.

“The signs there in March were very confusing,” she said. “There was one sign that said 50 and another sign on the other side that said 60. The one that said 60 was just covered up.”

Another cited driver argued she was not speeding and had never gotten a ticket in more than five decades of driving. The hearing officer upheld the ticket for driving 51 in a 35 zone after viewing a short video clip recorded by a stationary intersection camera showing her gaining on other vehicles.

The stationary cameras are not expected to generate more money this year than expected. The city collected $728,144 through May 31 from its 44 stationary cameras mounted at 28 sites. That is 36.4 percent of the $2 million budgeted for the year, according to city records.

Mr. Sykes said he still supports the program but questioned trying to catch speeders on the highways as they are leaving the city or north into Michigan.

“They catch people coming through the city, going out-of-town,” he said. “It is not a speed trap, but they are protecting the safety of the city. Going on the highway is a little different. They stand on the Alexis [Road] exit catching people going into Michigan.”

Mr. Sykes doesn’t think the steady stream of cash will last for Toledo.

“After a year or two people will become cognizant,” he said. “At that point, the money will dry up.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171 or on Twitter @IgnazioMessina.

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