Well the only thing talked about more than construction lately is photo radar. In the last couple of weeks, it seems to be the number one topic on social media. I have been tagged in posts, phone messages have been left, and have had email sent directly too me. As a result it is probably time to do a refresher on what we are doing and why.
Council started tossing around the idea of photo radar almost 2 years ago. The idea behind it is that photo radar is not to replace policing but to augment it. We talked to other communities that had photo radar, our bylaw team, our local police, and the contractor that would deliver the service. The average police officer cost us about $158,000 per year, which is an increase of approximately 2 per cent in taxes to residents.
Council wanted to make sure photo radar didn’t become a source of revenue we depended on, so we said it can’t go into general taxation. We can use it for one time improvements, safety programs etc. So far we have spent none of this money but will be discussing it this fall during budget.
How much did it cost us? Nothing. All the up front costs of people, equipment, vehicles, etc is all handled by the contractor.
Now tickets. Normally when a police officer or bylaw officer writes a ticket a portion goes to the province, and we keep a portion that goes back into general tax revenue to offset the costs of the people writing the tickets. Now with photo radar we essentially split that revenue with the contractor, (the province still takes their portion). We are giving up revenue, but we also have no expenses.
Enforcement. Photo radar employees are peace officers. They are able to park where they want and do what they need to carry out their duties. That being said it looks pretty silly when we give out parking tickets for things our own officers are doing. So although its not illegal, it doesn’t provide a good perception and so we have asked them to work on that perception.
What about speeds? Council does not decide to issue a photo radar ticket, that is determined by the RCMP.
Why are we not in school zones lately? For the month of September we concentrated on having RCMP officers in school zones, because they are better at education, and have provided many warning tickets which photo radar does not. Come October, the education phase will come to and end.
Why does it seem like they are out more? Typically the contractor employs two people, but in the past they have been short staffed and as of late that is no longer the case.
So the big question is why do we keep doing it. Originally we signed a one-year contract. This spring they wanted another 5-year contract and council said no, let’s try another year. How do we know its working? Almost everyone reading this can admit they drive different than what they used to. People are more cautious, attentive, and speeds are more aptly adhered to. Now if you don’t want to believe that, the annual number of collisions has dropped significantly which I think we can all agree is a good thing. We also monitor where people who get the tickets are from, and over time, the number of local residents receiving tickets has also decreased.
In the end photo radar does not replace a police officer. Police officers would be better I agree, but they are expensive and can’t be everywhere all the time. That combined with the fact people want better policing, and don’t want an increase in their taxes have lead us to try new things.
New ideas like how we tax, how we plan, staffing levels, chickens, pets, recreation, photo radar, utility bills, communication and the list goes on. Will photo radar stay? I imagine next spring we will look at the numbers again, talk to RCMP, our bylaw officers and decide if its time to get rid of it?
Photo radar is not popular I would agree with you on that, but I do know its making a difference. The tough part about being a politician is deciding what is more important, doing what is popular, or making decisions that make a difference. I think the goal is to try and find a balance between both.