Calling Carroll County a “speed trap,” an outgoing supervisor says the county could fund a new waterpark or other needs if it would keep the proceeds of Highway Safety Funds collected by the Carroll County Sheriff’s Department.
Supervisor At Large Sam Dickson, who chose not run for reelection this year, brought the topic up one time before in May of 2014. He revisited the issue with a tougher tone Monday night. Dickson originally said he’s had citizens ask him where the fire truck was that a $220,000 check from Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner in June from Highway Safety Funds was supposed to buy. After it was explained that the money has been budgeted and a fire truck is in the procurement process, Dickson turned his attention to the Highway Safety Funds in general.
“We’ve been running radar for about four years and so far we haven’t gotten any money from highway safety,” Dickson said. “Is that correct?”
Assistant County Administrator Nikki Cannon said Carroll has received money from fines and forfeitures. Dickson countered that it costs 20 to 30 percent of what’s brought in from Highway Safety Funds to process them, according to former Wythe County Administrator Cellell Dalton.
“Wytheville collects 20 percent of their highway safety money and he said it should be 30 because they are losing money,” Dickson said. “I still think the new board coming in needs to look at taking a percentage like all our surrounding counties do of that money because it is costing the county for processing.”
Dickson noted a recent television news report about Hopewell, Virginia. The locality’s police department runs radar on a two-mile stretch of I-295 that runs around the town, he said, resulting in about 1,000 speeding tickets a month. He said Hopewell collected $1.8 million in radar money in one year.
“Triple-A (AAA) calls it one of the worst speed traps in the country. They say I-295 has no overwhelming safety issue on that stretch of road. Triple-A says it’s an entrapment,” Dickson said, adding Hopewell uses the tickets to balance its town budget. “Triple-A has put up signs warning people that it is a speed trap. So when you get so close to Hopewell you will see a speed trap sign. I just wondered with us collecting $1.4 million a year if we are being picked up by the attention of Triple-A…We are getting dubbed as a speed trap rather we want it or not. It may not be long before we have billboards.”
If Carroll started collecting 20 percent of money coming from radar tickets over the last four years, it would now have $1 million for a new pool or other things that are needed in the county, Dickson said. He added Carroll may not have had to raise personal property taxes as it did this fiscal year.
“I know we did come down two cents on the real estate levy, but if you look at your personal property tax, it’s jumped quite a bit. If we had used that radar money, we may not have had to do that or may not have had to make it as high,” Dickson said. “So I think the next board needs to really look at this and see what they want to do.”
The supervisor said he is not targeting the Sheriff’s Department, but added that everything that needed to be bought has been.
“We have plenty of new cars, we’ve got a new radio system, we’ve got new uniforms, we’ve got new guns, new shotguns, new rifles, new tasers, we’ve got new vests. Everything that needs to be bought has been bought, so there will be less demand for that money other than the number of employees that has been added that some of that money has been picked up by this,” Dickson said. “So there’s money left there that could be used in the county for other things…If you looked at it that way, we could start building a pool.”
Many people are in favor of a new pool, Dickson said, noting there is a Facebook page specifically dedicated to bringing a waterpark to Carroll. With a new pool, many county citizens wouldn’t have to go to Randolph Park in Pulaski County, he said.
“It’s something I brought up before and nobody was interested in it, but the way things have changed, maybe there is a new line of hope that might be more interested in it,” Dickson said. “This would not affect the sheriff’s department because they are still going to have plenty of money. It wouldn’t affect any of the deputies because they still have plenty of money and plenty of people… I think it is something we need to look at as a community and possibly as a board.”
Pine Creek District Supervisor Bob Martin said speeding tickets are nothing new to Carroll County or surrounding areas.
“If you roll out of Carroll County going anywhere in Virginia, especially I-77 North and then hit I-81, the Wythe County deputies and all these other places are fighting with the state police for a place to pull in and run radar,” Martin said.
Dickson said he believes Carroll should do like its neighbors and look at keeping a larger portion of Highway Safety Funds. Supervisor Dr. Tom Littrell said Dickson made good points, but he didn’t like Dickson calling it a speed trap. He said Carroll may aggressively target offenders, but his experience is county deputies “will hardly look at anybody going less than 80 miles per hour.” It’s a safety issue, Littrell said. If deputies were targeting citizens going 66 miles per hour, then it might be a different story.
“I don’t think catching folks who are speeding is a speed trap, I think it is just trying to enforce the laws that we have,” Littrell said.
“Maybe that was a bad choice of words,” Dickson countered. “Maybe it should be policing for profit.”
Chairman Phil McCraw seemed to take offense to Dickson’s assertions, saying, “I hate politics. I think politics suck out loud.” McCraw then told Dickson he didn’t mean anything by it, but he was going to speak his mind.
“Whether you agree or disagree with what the sheriff is doing, I find it a bit ironic that you say if we were getting 20 percent or 30 percent it would be okay, but because we are not getting any of it, it’s a speed trap. I don’t know how you can rationalize saying that,” McCraw said. “If it’s a speed trap, it’s a speed trap whether you are getting 30 percent or nothing. And it’s not a speed trap. If you are not running probably 80-plus miles per hour, you are probably not going to get stopped over there. I don’t think it’s our place to sit up here and really lash out at constitutional officers when we have no control over them.”
Dickson said he had a rebuttal for McCraw, “but I won’t come at you.”
At that point, a motion was made to end the meeting.
Allen Worrell can be reached by calling (276) 779-4062 or on [email protected]