Jonesborough Police Sgt. Justin Hazlewood demonstrates the Watson Reporting app on his cellphone, which he uses to electronically document driver information and check for criminal history on traffic stops. (Max Hrenda/Johnson City Press)
By Monday evening, Jonesborough may become the first Washington County municipality to take advantage of a new state law aimed at reducing law enforcement maintenance costs by increasing traffic citation fees.
During the town’s scheduled Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, town leaders will discuss and possibly implement an ordinance that would adopt a $5 electronic citation fee.
The fee would apply to all citations that were issued and recorded by officers through the use of electronic equipment like personal digital assistants, and would be used to fund maintenance costs associated with that equipment. Of that $5 fee, $4 would go toward the law enforcement agency that issued the ticket and $1 would be retained by the court clerk’s office. Additionally, the fee would only be applied to those citations in which a guilty verdict was rendered.
Town Administrator Bob Browning, in a written synopsis provided to the BMA prior to tonight’s meeting, recommended the approval of the ordinance in its entirety.
“Any time you have people violating the law and creating the need for action by the police department, having those people pay for that part of your operation, as far as I’m concerned, is very legitimate,” Browning said in a phone interview.
In addition to helping local police departments with upkeep costs, Browning said the fee may have been instituted to aid the state in creating a uniform system for receiving information. Because the law only allows a municipality to levy the fee over a maximum period of five years, Browning said, it may have also been intended to help municipalities pay off state loans that were acquired to initiate the electronic citation system.
“It could help pay for ... debt service on it, if you were borrowing money to put that system in place,” Browning said. “But that’s an assumption on my part.”
The Jonesborough Police Department has used electronic devices to issue and track its traffic citations since 2010, and is one $3,000-plus payment away from paying off a state loan that was used to purchase the equipment and software. Even though the town’s loan will be paid off on Oct. 1, JPD Maj. Natalie Hilton said there were other costs associated with operating an electronic citation system.
“The (JPD) pays an annual fee of $5,407 to Data Driven Inc. (Watson); Watson is the company that provides the software for reporting,” she said. “The department pays $2,000 to TriTech (Software Systems) for maintenance. TriTech is the records management software that compiles the information that is sent to the state.”
Despite the costs associated with maintaining the software, Hilton said the use of electronic citation devices has helped maximize efficiency at the JPD.
“Both software allows for the department to be more efficient in our reporting to the state and allows for officers to complete traffic citations, crash reports and incident reports in a quicker manner,” she said.
While Jonesborough may become the first entity in Washington County to take advantage of the law, it may not be the last. Johnson City Police Chief Mark Sirois, whose department has used electronic citation devices and programs since 2006, said he supported the adoption of the electronic citation fee to help mitigate costs.
“It has been a really great program for us, and it has been a wise use of taxpayer dollars,” Sirois said. “Software needs to be upgraded, and your hardware needs to be upgraded from time to time. Those funds would be a source for upgrading equipment over time.”
Sirois added, however, that he has not spoken with any city officials in a formal capacity about incorporating the citation fee in Johnson City.
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