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Greenwood OKs change to keep more fines funds

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More of the money people pay for traffic tickets could end up staying in the community to fund local police services, and you’d have to shell out less in some cases.

The Greenwood City Council voted 8-1 Monday to write traffic tickets as violations of local rules instead of state laws. The hope is that the switch will give Greenwood at least $100,000 more a year to spend on police protection or other operating expenses.

Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said his office planned to bring a similar proposal to the county council next year in order to capture more money from the citations that already are being written. He said an advantage would be that the county likely would charge less for traffic tickets, which often run about $120 to $150, depending on the motorist’s driving record.

Both the sheriff and city officials said they did not plan to write any additional tickets. What’s at stake is whether the money paid in traffic fines stays in the community or goes to state government.

At a glance

Greenwood and Johnson County are trying to keep more of the money that’s collected from traffic tickets. Here’s a look:

How it works: Police officers write tickets for speeding and other traffic offenses as violations of state law, and most of the fine money that motorists pay goes to the state. For instance, the state got about $115,000 of the $253,000 in ticket money that the Greenwood City Court collected last year.

What’s proposed: Greenwood and Johnson County would start writing tickets as violations of local rules instead of state laws. The city and county attorneys then would prosecute the tickets in city and county courts.

What would happen: Greenwood and the county would get to keep most of the money collected through tickets, estimated to be at least $100,000 a year in Greenwood’s case. Both expect to put the extra income toward operating expenses.

What it doesn’t mean: Both Greenwood and the county said their police officers wouldn’t write any additional tickets and that the intent is to keep more of the money from the tickets already being issued.

Greenwood is trying to keep more of the money it gets from speeding tickets, city attorney Krista Taggart said.

Police officers would write tickets as violations of local rules instead of state law, mainly by checking a different box on the tickets. The city attorney’s office would then prosecute the cases in Greenwood City Court, where most traffic offenders plead guilty.

Judge Lewis Gregory said he didn’t expect any increase in cases, since such tickets already end up in city court.

More tickets could be funneled away from city courts and into county courts if the Johnson County Council decides that the county should keep more ticket money from violations on county roads, Cox said. The arrangement also could divert money from the Johnson County Prosecutor’s Office and its deferral programs unless an agreement was worked out where a deputy prosecutor could handle those cases instead of the county attorney, he said.

The county council had requested that the sheriff’s office put together a plan to bring in more revenue from the tickets it’s already writing and will have to decide if the pros outweigh the cons, Cox said. He said the county likely would put the ticket money toward operating expenses, but the county council would have to discuss exactly what to do with it.

Greenwood also is looking to boost revenue after the city brought in about $1.9 million less than budgeted this year. Mayor Mark Myers has wanted to look at putting the extra income toward operating expenses, particularly with the police and fire departments.

City council members Ron Bates, Mike Campbell, Brent Corey, Linda Gibson, Ezra Hill, J. David Hopper, Thom Hord and Tim McLaughlin voted Monday to approve the proposal to keep more traffic ticket money. Council member Bruce Armstrong voted against it.

Armstrong said he thought it was unfair to try to take money away from a government agency that was already getting it. He said it was only a matter of time before state lawmakers realized what local communities were doing and shut it down, sending the money back to the state.

Gregory said it would be difficult to estimate exactly how much money Greenwood would take away from the state. But he said that state government got about half of the $253,000 in traffic ticket money collected in city court last year.

Carmel, Fishers, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and other communities already collect most of the citation money when their police officers write traffic tickets, Taggart said.

However, Greenwood doesn’t. The bulk of the money goes to state or county programs, such as maintaining a statewide database of court records, DNA testing or judicial retirement funds.

“It’s a lucrative deal for the state,” Corey said.

Under the proposal, Greenwood potentially could keep most of the money it gets for tickets in which the driver was speeding or committing a traffic infraction on a city street. Taggart said the state still would get most of the money if the violation took place on U.S. 31, State Road 135 or other state road.

Greenwood has been in the process of doing traffic studies of various streets to make sure the city can set the speed limits, Taggart said. That way, a speeder would be breaking a local rule instead of a state law and could be fined by the city.

Speed limits across the city wouldn’t necessarily change and could stay the same in many cases, Taggart said. They also could be decreased or bumped up as necessary.

Police Chief John Laut said he didn’t know yet if most speed limits on city streets would go up or down or stay the same.

Greenwood should have the right to set the speed limits and collect the ticket money from its own streets since the city is responsible for paving, plowing and otherwise maintaining those streets, Hopper said.

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