MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

May 8, 2013

Committee OKs traffic fine increase

Most fines would increase $15 under plan

Finance Committee members unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that would increase by $15 the fine for most moving traffic violations to help fund the police department’s fleet management program.

The ordinance, which is expected to win final approval next week when it goes before the City Council, would take effect 30 days after publication. It is expected the additional $15 would generate about $60,000 a year.

That money would be in addition to funding made available from the general fund and revenue generated from a portion of a sales tax dedicated for wages and equipment. The budget approved for the fiscal year that ends June 30 shows the department had $150,000 available from the general fund for auto maintenance and $145,000 from its capital outlay fund for its lease-purchase program.

Police Chief Rex Eskridge said the additional funding would “really help us out a lot.” He said 37 patrol cars within the department’s fleet have logged more than 100,000 miles. Another 10 have been driven more than 75,000 miles.

“This would help us finance some new vehicles,” Eskridge said, noting the age and wear of some of his department’s rolling stock. “This can raise a lot of safety issues when there are that many miles on those vehicles.”

Eskridge said department, like many across the state, began looking at the idea several years ago. Officials considered adding a separate fee dedicated for the department’s fleet maintenance program at that time, but questions arose regarding the city’s legal authority to create such a fee.

Sen. Earl Garrison of Muskogee, at the request of former Mayor John Tyler Hammons, asked the attorney general’s office to weigh in on the issue. In an opinion published in 2012, the attorney general concluded 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.

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. Presently, the fines for most traffic offenses are set at $101 plus court costs and a state fee collected for the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training.

City Manager Greg Buckley said the additional $60,000 could help accelerate the frequency of the police department’s vehicle rotation schedule. He said presently the department acquires about 30 new cars on a “five-year lease-purchase cycle.”

Buckley said he would prefer a rotation schedule that would include the purchase of about 15 new patrol cars a year. Those new cars, ideally, would be rotated out after the lease-purchase contract was completed or shortly thereafter.

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

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