County doesn't need a speed trap

January 25, 2005 12:00 am

Judge Larry Cole and Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. might be on to something.

The two have discussed the idea of posting a sheriff's deputy with the sole purpose of writing more tickets to drum up some dollars for the county's general fund.

If they post the deputy near the Baker County Courthouse and target county employees until they've written about $1,000 worth of tickets per employee, the county will have recouped the $126,000 the commission handed out in bonuses late last year.

We're not serious. And remember: This column supported the bonuses, but found fault in the way the commission made its decision without adequately informing the public of its intent to discuss more than $100,000 in unbudgeted new spending. (Dec. 14, 2004).

But the $126,000 awarded in bonuses just before Christmas is surprisingly close to the $170,000 the county expects to lose in general fund revenues thanks to a recent decrease in ticket writing.

The county can't be hurting that badly if it handed out bonus checks. And even with the decrease in citations, Baker County Justice Court's revenues still cover the cost of operating the court.

Besides, traffic safety enforcement should be driven by spreadsheets that show accidents, injuries and lives lost, not quotas tied to government revenues.

State police are managing their resources in an effort to maximize traffic safety on Interstate 84. That includes a stepped-up motor carrier enforcement. Targeting big rigs is of critical importance.

The majority of traffic on Interstate 84 through Baker City in the coming years is expected to be commercial trucks.

And when truckers speed or fail to heed warnings about traction devices, then accidents happen, the interstate closes and commerce is negatively affected — if people aren't injured, or worse.

Don't get us wrong. It's good that Cole and Warner are looking at the downward trend in citations and the associated revenue impact. Cole plans to retire in the near future, so we commend him for not just biding his time and passing the problem on to his successor.

Baker County needs to keep an eye on justice court costs and revenues. It may be that the county has to bank some of the excess revenues now to help underwrite the cost in a coming lean year, or reduce its court costs.

And if there is a traffic hazard, design an enforcement program that brings motorists into compliance with the law.

But assign a deputy to write tickets to generate revenue? We've already asked Sheriff Mitch Southwick, and he doesn't seem too enthusiastic on the topic.