City Councilor Sally Mayer got a phone call from a constituent right after the city's first cameras were up and running. The tickets are unaffordable, the caller fretted. "Believe me," Mayer says, "there are times where that would be what I would have to say, too. 'I don't have this money.'"
With $5.2 million in fines coming out of citizens' pockets since the program began and more cameras due for installation in 2007, that complaint could become more frequent. That's why Mayer's been working with the city's legal office since the cameras came to the Duke City. The councilor and the lawyers are digging through the language needed to present an alternative: a payment plan or a community service option.
It wouldn't be income-based, she says. Anyone who wants to trade hours spent picking weeds or walking dogs at the animal shelters (just two possibilities) could go the community service route instead of coughing up the $100 or more in fines.
Don't get Mayer wrong; she isn't against the cameras. In fact, she thinks they're a great deterrent. "It scares people into behaving, and that's good," she says. But there should be another choice for those who can't afford it or just don’t want to pay.
Mayer hasn't yet introduced this measure to the Council. She's been waiting on City Attorney Bob White to hammer out some of the trickier details. The tickets issued by cameras are civil offenses, and with a civil offense, Mayer says, the damages usually can't include any kind of labor, "because that would be like forced servitude," she says. "I think that's kind of far-out to apply to what we're doing.” The goal is to make other payment arrangements available, but they would only be options, she says.
The city legal office is in the process of building a bill Mayer can introduce to the Council, White says. "Because we're in a different context, we have to do things a different way. It's just a matter of translating things into that mode." White estimates they should have something together in less than a month.
The community service avenue wouldn't be available to people who got tickets from officers. "We don't have the jurisdiction to change that," Mayer says. The option would only be open to people who were cited by red-light cameras and speed vans. So far, Mayer adds, the rest of the Council seems to be supportive of the idea.