Toledo speed cameras to stay on pause until high court rules

·6 min read

May 22—Toledo's speed and red-light enforcement cameras were supposed to be up and running again this spring.

But the cameras are on pause for now — with the "speed enforced by photo" signs remaining an idle threat — as the city hopes to get an all-clear ruling from Ohio state Supreme Court.

Toledo shut down its traffic-camera program last June after the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that its appeals process violated state law.

On June 24, 2020, the court said Toledo's administrative process for hearing appeals of traffic-camera citations conflicted with municipal courts' exclusive jurisdiction over such appeals, based on House Bill 62 that passed in 2019.

"We agree and conclude that Toledo's patent and unambiguous lack of jurisdiction to carry out its red-light and speeding camera civil-enforcement system is clear on the face of [the amended state law]," Justice Judith French wrote. "Toledo therefore has no jurisdiction to conduct its own quasi-judicial proceedings."

While the city suspended camera-based enforcement within a few days, it also vowed to fix it, not kill it.

The Kapszukiewicz administration rewrote the camera ordinance and got city council to pass it, which it did in December by a vote of 8-4. Under the revised ordinance, vehicle owners — to whom camera-based tickets are mailed — may only appeal through Toledo Municipal Court rather than to a hearing officer.

At the time, the administration had intended to resume operating the cameras and collecting fines by March or April.

But on Thursday, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said the program is halted until there is a clear signal from the state high court.

"Instead of trying to sort of put together a plan that we think the court will bless, the program is on hold awaiting a final and definitive decision from the Supreme Court," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. "We don't know when that's going to come. It could be a year. It could be sooner.

"This is a change. We went through a period of several weeks, if not months, working with the municipal court staff and judges and the amount of questions and logistical issues that were raised was such that we decided it made more sense to wait for a final ruling."

Councilman Rob Ludeman said the city should have restarted the cameras in April as planned to crack down on speeding motorists.

"We have a severe speed and safety problem in the city. These folks they think there's no enforcement. I don't agree with waiting for the Supreme Court. I think you throw the fear of ticketing into the hearts of some of these speeders who don't care. We need to do something to slow them down," Mr. Ludeman said. He said he has noticed an uptick in police enforcing the speed limits on city streets.

House Bill 62, which took effect on July 3, 2019, was the Ohio General Assembly's latest attempt to clamp down on the use of cameras — with little or no involvement by police officers or local courts — to fine speeders and red-light violators.

The law, contained in the state's transportation budget, hit municipalities like Toledo in the pocket book. It reduced municipalities' Local Government Fund allocations by the amount of money they raised from traffic camera (except in school zone enforcement). It also prohibited the use of administrative hearing officers, instead of municipal courts, to hear appeals for the fines.

In response, the city of Dayton stopped using fixed-site red light and speed detection cameras in mid-2019, and filed a lawsuit in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court requesting an injunction against the state.

The city of Toledo continued to operate its cameras, and because of that is now in danger of having to refund all the fines that were collected from July 3, 2019 forward.

Attorney Andrew Mayle's lawsuit on behalf of Woodville resident Susan Magsig led to the June 24 Supreme Court ruling against Toledo's program.

He followed up with a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Sam Jodka, a resident of Franklin County who was ticketed and paid the $120 fine and now seeks reimbursement on the grounds the city's program was found to have operated in violation of state law. The city and Mr. Jodka await a ruling on summary judgment by Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Linda Jennings.

Meanwhile, the case against the state for its 2019 law is advancing. The Ohio Supreme Court agreed April 27 to accept an appeal on cases filed by Dayton, Newburgh Heights in Cuyahoga County, and East Cleveland.

The ruling is expected to decide whether the General Assembly has the right to withhold Local Government Funds from cities equal to the amount revenue cities make from the automated cameras.

The cities contend the withholding of money is unconstitutional. The state, backed up by Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, says the General Assembly has discretion how its Local Government Funds can be allocated.

Toledo's program was established in 2012 under a contract with Redflex, of Phoenix, signed by then-Mayor Mike Bell. Redflex agreed to maintain the cameras. Of each $120 fine, Redflex keeps $29.75 and the city of Toledo gets $90.25.

Revenue to the city was $2.2 million in 2015, $4.5 million in 2016, $7.2 million in 2017, $7.3 million in 2018, and $6.7 million in 2019. Revenue in 2020 was down to $2.8 million before its suspension.

Toledo and other cities deploying such cameras have battled repeated state-level attempts to frustrate their use.

In 2017, the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Toledo and other traffic-camera cities that the state had infringed unconstitutionally on cities' home-rule authority with a requirement that a police officer be present to witness violations caught on camera, something the cities contended would make the program economically infeasible to continue.

Mr. Mayle said the city's decision to pause its red-light camera program until the Supreme Court rules is evidence that revenue, not safety, is its motive.

"This just exposes the complete lie that this has been about safety. If they believed it was just about safety they would start the program up again," Mr. Mayle said.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz asserted it is about safety, not finances.

"None of this is about cost. This is about trying to have people drive more safely," he said.

The city says that crash data show the cameras have increased safety on Toledo's streets.

The Toledo Police Department compared accident counts at 26 locations for the five years before Jan. 1, 2014, and for the five years after. It found a total of 4,305 crashes at 26 intersections with fixed cameras in the first five years and 3,071 in the second five, a decline of about 28 percent. Injury crashes declined from 921 in the first five years to 724 in the second five years, a drop of about 21 percent.

But at individual intersections, the crash-count changes varied significantly. Overall, 18 locations had fewer accidents and eight had more accidents.

First Published May 21, 2021, 3:26pm

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