I warned Byrnes Mill weeks ago that it had better start planning for what it’s going to do if the legislature passes a bill to cap the percentage of city revenue that can come from traffic tickets. SB 5, which would institute a 10% cap on cities such as Byrnes Mill, passed the state Senate unanimously in February. Byrnes Mill, which got 37% and 26% of its revenue from municipal court fines in the past two years (only part of this total, but most of it, is from traffic tickets), is well over the looming cap, and would be hard pressed to remain solvent without ticket money.
But Byrnes Mill did not take my advice. Instead of preparing, the city is trying to fight the bill. See this KMOV report in which the city trots out city attorney Bob Sweeney to make its case. (To continue with my “JeffCo’s Ferguson” theme, Sweeney is to city attorneys what Ronald Brockmeyer was to municipal judges). Why use him, and not the mayor, police chief, or city administrator? How much did Sweeney bill the city for this appearance? (Note: Sweeney’s daughter is the city prosecutor).
Sweeney said [Senator] Schmitt’s legislation does not take into consideration the financial impact on small cities such as Byrnes Mill that have little retail or commercial tax revenue.
Yes it does. To me, that’s part of what makes the legislation attractive. It will put bogus municipalities that should not exist, and that prey on drivers to keep their governments afloat, out of business, ideally forcing them to disincorporate. It primarily targets places like St. Ann and Pine Lawn, but it has the added benefit of hitting Byrnes Mill where it hurts.
“The police department would be cut in half, at least,” Sweeney said.
Good. The BMPD is a self-licking ice cream cone. It writes a bunch of tickets, to pay for more cops, who can write more tickets. They can afford to lose a couple of officers.
Byrnes Mill collected $118,000 more in revenue than Hillsboro, which is of a similar size. Sweeney said the difference is due to Highway 30.
“The volume of cars that comes through Highway 30 in Byrnes Mill is the highest volume anywhere in Jefferson County except the intersection of Jeffco Boulevard and 141 in Arnold,” Sweeney said.
That second paragraph appears to be true, according to MODOT data – if you don’t count a minor little road known as Interstate 55 (or Hwy 67). Here are some traffic volumes:
- Jeffco Blvd at 141 – 32,800 vehicles per day
- Hwy 30 at about Gravois Rd - 22,000
- I-55 at the Meramec River – 109,000
- I-55 at Imperial – 81,700
- I-55 at Pevely – 50,600
- Hwy A at I-55 – 26,500
- Hwy 67 at about Meyer Road – 35,400
And we know that cities like Arnold and Pevely love to prey on those I-55 drivers. So that excuse is apparently incorrect.
The Leader also ran a story on Byrnes Mill’s desperate campaign. Here’s what the mayor, Susan Gibson, told them:
I don’t know why they (legislators) want to use a shotgun approach instead of focusing on the offending communities and come down on them.
NEWS FLASH, Susan: Byrnes Mill IS an offending community! The current revenue cap is 30%, and your city blew by that in 2013, and was barely under it in 2014.
Gibson also said, laughably, that “when I say our police force is reformed, it is. I don’t deny that it was a problem at one point in time, but that’s all changed.” Pardon me if don’t believe you. Yes, BM’s percentage of revenue from tickets dropped this past year, but that is likely because they way overshot the 30% cap the year before. They budgeted $340,000 in court revenue for 2013, but got $451,000, so they dialed it back to $400,000 for 2014. And if things have really changed, why is the most recent former police chief suing the city, making allegations of city government meddling in the municipal police and court system?
City administrator Larry Perney, who wrote a sample letter, posted on the city website, for residents to sign and mail to their state representative, said “we will have to lay off 6 to 9 people to make our budget balance.” So what? City governments have long been under the illusion that cities exist for their employees, not for their residents. Perney also makes the case that BM has less crime than other cities in the county, so its mass ticketing is OK. But is it much of a surprise that the smallest municipality in the county, one that self-admittedly has few businesses to provide sales tax revenue (and be targets of robbery and theft), has the least crime?
Two city aldermen also gave the Leader some golden quotes. Bob Prado said:
This is a raid on city coffers. They’ll let us enforce the law as long as they (the state) can get the money.
No, Bob. Money over 10% would go to local schools, not the state. Jerry Klipsch said “They should just make all speed-limit signs suggestions.” Kind of like your officers treat Constitutional rights as suggestions in numerous alleged cases, Jerry? And what about all those tickets that city admin Perney is alleged to have fixed, or the checkpoints he ordered not to take place? Didn’t that make the city less safe?
And Police Chief Gary Dougherty, latest to hold a position that has seen many firings, said ridiculously, “If traffic fatalities rise, we can blame it on people in the House and Senate.”
See, if it were just about there being too many tickets, that would be one thing. But the rash of lawsuits, allegations, and demonstrated improprieties involving the BMPD shows that letting the department pull over more drivers leads to more opportunities for people’s rights to be violated. Dougherty needs to consider this aspect of citizen safety.
I am not one to make this call often, but I would suggest that people who agree with this post to contact their state representatives and urge them to vote for SB 5. In the Leader article, Rep. Shane Roden, who represents Byrnes Mill, seems favorable towards the bill. You can find your representative’s contact information on the Byrnes Mill website.