MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

May 7, 2013

$15 boost in driver fines on council agenda

Money would go for upkeep of police cars

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Motorists convicted of a moving traffic violation in Muskogee could see increased fines for some offenses if city councilors approve a proposed ordinance.

The measure, which the Finance Committee will consider today, would increase by $15 the fine for most moving traffic violations. The additional revenue would be earmarked for maintaining the city’s police cars.

Because state law caps fines related to traffic and parking violations at $200, the proposed increase would attach only to those moving violations for which fines total less than $185.

City Attorney Roy Tucker said the fines for most moving violations are now set at $101 plus court costs and a state fee collected for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training. Court costs and CLEET fees add $48 to the penalties for traffic violations and other municipal crimes, he said.

Fines established by municipal ordinances for alcohol- and drug-related traffic offenses already meet the maximum rate set by state laws. Although there are other violations for which the fine could be increased, Tucker said the proposed ordinance would apply only to moving traffic violations.

“We do have room for an increase in fines for (drug) possession charges, but we wanted to limit this to moving traffic violations,” he said. “We wanted this to have some correlation to the wear and tear on the police vehicles that occurs as a result of enforcing these ordinances.”

City Manager Greg Buckley said the idea for the increased fines to help fund the maintenance and replacement of police vehicles first came up during then-Mayor John Tyler Hammons’ second term. The idea then was to establish a separate fee, which is prohibited by state law.

An attorney general’s opinion requested in 2012 by state Sen. Earl Garrison of Muskogee clarified the issue. The opinion concluded that municipalities may increase penalties for traffic offenses if there is no conflict with state law, and the extra revenue may be used for any lawful purpose that promotes the public good.

Buckley said the police fleet includes 37 vehicles that have more than 100,000 miles of use. The proposed fine increases would provide additional money that could be used to replace patrol cars more frequently.

“They get driven every day, and it’s not necessarily easy driving,” he said. “The maintenance eats you up when you try to keep them too long.”

Buckley said the rotation schedule for the city’s police fleet is on a “five-year lease-purchase cycle,” with about 30 new cars acquired each time. Buckley said if city councilors approve the proposed ordinance, he would like to shift to a schedule that allows the purchase of 15 to 17 new cars a year.

With the average cost of a fully equipped police cruiser about $28,000, the cost of adding 17 new police cars a year would total about $476,000 annually. This year’s budget estimated revenue from fines and forfeitures of $1.06 million, but there was no breakdown available for moving traffic violations.

City councilors, sitting as members of the Muskogee Finance Committee, will consider the proposal when they meet at 4 p.m. today on the third floor of City Hall. If approved, the measure will advance for further consideration Monday.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go



WHAT: Muskogee Public Works, Finance Committee regular meetings and a special meetings of the Parking and Redevelopment authorities.

WHEN: 4 p.m. today.

WHERE: City Council Chambers, third floor, Muskogee Municipal Building, 229 W. Okmulgee Ave.

ON TV: Broadcast live on Suddenlink Channel 14.