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Update: Bluff City shuts down speed cameras after inquiries about state law violation

September 14th, 2011 11:50 am by Gary B. Gray

BLUFF CITY — Bluff City has pulled the plug on its well-known speed cameras for now.
The city had been breaking state law for more than two months by not moving two posted 45 mph signs on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 11E at least one mile away from the devices.
Acting Police Chief Greg DePew said Wednesday morning the city was going to take action regarding the signs, but he could not say when that might happen.
Later in the day, City Manager Judy Dulaney said the city was “actually in the process of turning off the cameras until we get this solved.”
“The cameras have been turned off, and I’ve sent the public works department out to take the sign down,” she said later Wednesday.
When asked why the city didn’t take the opportunity to make the changes when the law went into effect on July 1, Dulaney cited various reasons, including a change in leadership and personnel as well as immediate concerns over speeding and wrecks near a local flea market.
Dulaney said she would call back to identify exactly when the cameras were shut down. She had not made that call by the end of business Wednesday.
A little fire breathing by two state representatives earlier in the day may or may not have had something to do with Bluff City taking action.
“Every single ticket generated from that — every ticket written since July 1 — should be thrown out,” said State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough. “Bluff City needs to abide by the law. That money should be returned. The cameras should be turned off immediately until that’s done. And if that’s not done, I will be speaking to the attorney general.”
State Rep. Dale Ford, R-Jonesborough, said if Bluff City did not move the 45 mph signs then “the county mayor (Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey) better get to it.”
“If he does not, he’ll be getting a call from the state level,” Ford added. “That (the cameras) has nothing to do with people getting killed out there. It’s not about safety; it never has been. It’s about making money.”
State legislation that went into effect on July 1 does not permit traffic enforcement cameras to be placed on public roads and highways unless the reduced speed of 10 mph or more is posted within this parameter. In this case, the speed on the southbound lanes on 11E leading to the cameras is reduced from 55 mph to 45 mph, but the 45 mph sign is posted only three-tenths of a mile from the cameras.
The Press received emails and calls regarding illegally placed signs, which, as of Wednesday, were only misplaced on the south bound lanes as motorists head toward Johnson City. The signs are correctly placed on the northbound side.
In August, Dulaney told the Kingsport Times-News that purchases from speed camera revenues included a new support truck for the city’s rescue squad and putting a shelter over a caboose in the city park. However, she said the two biggest gains come from moving about one fourth of those revenues directly into the city’s existing operations budget and putting some away for a rainy day.
Jim Bolinger, who lives just north of Elizabethton, said he received a speeding citation on Aug. 4 while traveling through Bluff City on 11E — 35 days after the law took effect.
On Sept. 13, Bolinger went to the town’s city hall with a copy of the ticket and a copy of the state’s legal opinion on the matter.
“Despite this material, I was told the only way to fight the ticket was to go to court,” he said. “I can only believe Bluff City doesn’t move the 45 mph speed limit sign because they want the revenue. I think they expect people to continue to pay the fines, because they either don’t know the change to the law or they can’t afford to take time off from work to fight the ticket and still possibly end up paying nearly twice the original amount.”
DePew said he personally measured the distance and also came up with three-tenths of a mile.
When asked if the 45 mph signs had been left up in order to pull in additional revenue, DePew said he did not believe that was the case.
“I know there’s been criticism, and I don’t mind that,” he said. “But our first concern is safety, and we want to do what’s right.”
Bluff City’s estimated take from the speed cameras last year was $786,000, about 47 percent of its total revenue of nearly $1.7 million, more than three times what it gathered in property taxes and more than seven times the amount of state taxes collected.
The same legislation activated in July also has caused the monthly number of citations generated by Johnson City’s red light traffic cameras to drop nearly in half. Revenues also are tracking downward.

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