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Ohio high court rules on speed camera dispute

A law that reduces state funding to municipalities that use speed camera enforcement is constitutional, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled.

Youngstown’s police department had used hand-held speed cameras, almost exclusively on Interstate 680 between South Avenue and Meridian Road, from August 2015 until November 2019. Girard, Weathersfield and Liberty also have used camera enforcement.

But Youngstown discontinued the program after the state Legislature passed a bill that reduced a municipality’s local government fund (LGF) money by the amount it received from the hand-held cameras for speeding and going through red lights.

The local government fund was established with the enactment of the state sales tax in 1935, and a designated portion of state revenues are distributed to county and local governments.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld the law in a case brought by the village of Newburgh Heights and the city of East Cleveland, both in Cuyahoga County, that contended the law infringed on their authority under home rule.

In the decision, Justice Sharon Kennedy wrote, “The Ohio Constitution does not require the General Assembly to appropriate any funds to municipalities” and its members have “exclusive discretion to reduce the appropriation of local government funds” based on speed and red light camera enforcement.

She acknowledged that the law “may disincentivize municipalities” from using the cameras, but it doesn’t prohibit their use.

Youngstown received about $2.2 million in speed-camera money in 2019 compared to about $1.7 in LGF. The city ended the program because the speed-camera money was exclusively for police equipment purchases and to pay for officers on that duty, who did so on overtime at time-and-a-half. LGF money goes into the city’s general fund.

There is an exemption in state law to the LGF deduction for cameras in school zones, however. Money collected by the city for school zone speeders can only be used for school safety resources.

Thursday, by coincidence, Youngstown’s board of control finalized a deal to put unmanned speed cameras in school zones.

Blue Line Solutions will install the cameras in school zones later this year. The Chattanooga, Tenn., company will oversee the cameras and issue civil citations to those caught going at least 11 mph over the speed limit in school zones.

Now that the contract is approved, city officials said they will discuss a timetable with Blue Line for when the cameras will be installed. There would be a 30-day grace period after the cameras are installed, in which those caught speeding would be issued warnings by mail.

The city will get 65 percent of the money collected from speed citations with Blue Line receiving the remaining 35 percent.

Speeders would face civil penalties of $100 for driving at least 11 mph over the speed limit, $125 for 12 to 19 mph over the limit and $150 for those driving at least 20 mph over the limit. They would not get points on their driving record for the civil citations.

The city police department hasn’t written a single speeding ticket in a school zone this year.

Youngstown officials haven’t determined uses for the revenue.

About five years ago, more than 7,700 people who were driving on a stretch of Interstate 80 in the city of Girard were cited and billed for speeding as the speed cameras had been set for a construction zone limit of 55 mph, when in fact the construction had ended and the regular 65 mph was in force.

A Trumbull County judge late last year signed off on an out-of-court settlement from the camera company, but the judge absolved the city of Girard of any financial blame.

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