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Cash cow should have leaner cuts

Posted on December 23, 2013 by Taber Times

Much like Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, I was visited by the Ghosts of Columns Past.

That visit came after reading discussions within town council chambers in 2014 budget deliberations when it came to the line item of fine revenue.

Before the budget was finally passed on Dec. 16 in which a 1.5 property tax increase was allotted, an original proposed budget with a 2.5 per cent increase was presented to council to debate.

Administration was given the task to see what fat could be trimmed or what seat cushions could be overturned to scrape together spare change in extra revenues to make a 1.5 per cent property tax increase more palatable.

Low and behold the largest change to the previous proposed budget was an extra $80,000 in fine revenue with the notion historically fine revenue projections had been understated compared to the eventual reality in a calendar year.

Given my previously stated stance in my Ghosts of Columns Past that you should not use the principle of increased fine revenue to balance budgets, the assumed $80,000 extra is a dangerous stance to take in fiscal policy.

Those of the lead foot on the gas pedal, texting behind the wheel or never take the time to put on their seatbelts have long complained things like photo radar are simply a cash cow for the police and town.

And to those people I say — so what? Traffic laws are there for a reason and if you cannot abide by them, so what if the town gets an extra Christmas bonus at the end of the year in the form of cash from your wallet from your poor driving habits? You broke the law and you have to pay.

But therein lies the problem. The supposed reason for your photo radar, seatbelt, or distracted-driving ticket is to serve as a deterrent to do such careless driving practices and increase safety on the road as a result.

So if that reasoning proves true, then shouldn’t the person after their fifth photo radar ticket in six months get the hint and slow down in school zones?

If so, then revenue streams from fine revenues should be lowering, not increasing.

If you are projecting higher numbers or increased fine revenue from year to year to balance your budgets then you are hoping people are not learning their lesson and in fact shifting the focus away from road safety.

So it is either admitting traffic tickets serve as no deterrent whatsoever to driving carelessly if fine revenue streams stay the same or go up, or if it does serve as an effective deterrent, then more law enforcement time is needed on generating fine revenue in volume now that fewer people are committing driving infractions.

The Taber Police Service already has a hard enough job as it is, meeting increased fine revenue projections should not be one of them.

I want my police officers arresting drug dealers, home invaders or people assaulting women.

I do not want them sitting by speed traps or trolling the streets slowly in their car seeing if they can spot someone texting or not wearing their seatbelt.

And if the driving populace do begin to learn their lessons and do not speed through school zones, take those extra 10 seconds to strap in at the beginning of their journey or leave the cellphone out of the hands while driving, that is exactly what the police are going to have to do with increasing frequency to meet fine revenue projections.

Fine revenue is not a cash cow we should be growing increasingly used to in balancing our budgets because then it increasingly shifts the focus of law enforcement from crime prevention to traffic enforcement.

Fine revenue is too big of a line revenue to think it will ever go away at this point.

The Pandora’s Box that has been opened of a boost it gives to the town budget simply cannot be closed at this point.

But alternatives have to be found apart from projecting lofty fine revenue streams. We need to be proactive and forward thinking in how to balance our budgets of our various departments apart from simply relying on the Christmas bonus that is fine revenue year in and year out through either status quo or increasing projections.

The full-court press has to be made to either provincial or federal politicians for proportionate funding in community policing, efficiencies have to be combed over to minimize overtime of all town public employees, projects need to be prioritized and business attracted to the area to increase tax base among several avenues that can be taken to balance budgets.

To all those people who want to pay little to no taxes, but expect gold-plated services, there is no magical money fairy to get these imaginary funds from.

It is not a matter of higher or lower taxation, but effective taxation in running a town.

And that taxation should not have to be counted on too heavily by how many tickets police officers are writing.

But, if projections for fine revenue keep going up year after year after year then that is exactly what you are counting on. We should always be budgeting with the notion in mind that people are taking the message loud and clear when it comes to traffic and public safety.

If not, then let us stop pretending that issuing traffic tickets serves as  a means to increase safety on the roads, because if fine revenue streams remain the same or increase over the years, it means either people are not getting the message or more police resources are being used fro traffic enforcement.

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