Mo. 'Speed Traps' Take Aim at School-Funding Law
Drive with a heavy foot in the rural Missouri hamlets of Macks Creek and Curryville, and you can expect to pay a hefty fine.
Until recently, what local officials characterize as "effective" enforcement of speeding laws has proved a lucrative source of revenue for each city's coffers.
But, thanks to a new state law--which lawmakers concede was prompted by both towns' statewide reputation as speed traps--much of the revenue from traffic fines in each county will now go instead to help schools.
The change has prompted officials in both cities to challenge the constitutionality of the new law in state circuit court.
Mayor Gerald Hoskins of Macks Creek, population 316, argues that the issue of school funding obscures a more important concern. That, he says, is the unwarranted intrusion into local affairs by state government.
He and his counterparts in Curryville, which boasts 326 residents, say the amount of money that would go to the public schools under the new law would be insignificant.
'We Don't Trap Them'
"Where the revenue would go would be irrelevant," Mr. Hoskins said last week. "It would not be depriving the schools of anything. It just wouldn't be a factor in school funding."
City officials were angered because legislators tacked the speeding provisions onto a law that dealt with revoking drivers' licenses.
The speeding amendment requires any town that generates more than 45 percent of its annual revenue from traffic fines on state highways to turn over the excess to its county's public schools.
Both towns lie along U.S. Highway 54, a state-maintained and regulated road that runs northeast to southwest through the central part of the state.
The Missouri auditor's office estimates that about three-fourths of Macks Creek's annual revenues--$216,000 last year--came from court fines. About 65 percent of those fines were speeding tickets.
Roughly 70 percent of Curryville's $269,000 annual budget came from court fines, though it was unclear what percentage of those fines were speeding tickets.
William Cheeseman, Curry-ville's city attorney, said local police do not ticket drivers unless they are exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph.
"Any place where the speed is strictly enforced, it's going to be called a speed trap," he said. "But we don't trap them."
Mayor Hoskins said tickets aren't issued in Macks Creek unless drivers exceed the limit by 15 mph. The speed limit on U.S. 54 outside Macks Creek is 55, but signs warn that the limit drops to 45 mph at the city limits.
Local school officials have taken no official position on the lawsuit.
But residents of both towns are divided as to the appropriateness of raising municipal revenue through speeding enforcement, and about the effectiveness of the new law.
Larry King, the superintendent of the Macks Creek R-5 school district, argues that because his school borders Highway 54, the new law may increase the likelihood of traffic accidents by taking money away from law enforcement.
Noting that several roads enter the highway near his school, he argued that ticketing speeders makes the area much safer. "It's just simply an area where 45 miles per hour is reasonable," he said.
His enthusiasm for the speeding law, however, is not shared by Ron Hendricks, the superintendent of the Camdenton R-3 district, a few miles west of Macks Creek.
Both cities are in Camden County, and because the Camdenton district enrolls more students than Macks Creek, it stands to benefit if the new law is upheld in the courts.
But Mr. King's concerns about safety aside, Mr. Hendricks said he personally believes Macks Creek has been overzealous in enforcing speed limits. That, he says, has given local tourism a black eye.
"As a resident of this area, I do think it's a disgrace to pull people over in that town who are going five miles over the limit," he said. "It's a trap. That's the way I look at it."