An overflow crowd that squeezed into Mowrystown Village Council chambers Wednesday night to voice their displeasure with a speed camera being used in the village was told that the reason for the camera is to pay for police officers to help battle drug problems in the village.
“So we could deter the drugs is why we did it,” Mowrystown Mayor Frank Terwilliger said.
That is in contrast to what Terwilliger told The Times-Gazette late last month. At that time he said that the cameras were being used for the safety of the citizens, but said nothing about a drug problem. Rather, he said the cameras were being used to reduce speeding in the village.
The mayor also said on Aug. 29 that the camera is not being used as a financial resource for the village. But Wednesday he indicated that the camera is being used to help pay for police officers for the village. He said 60 percent of the money from fines the camera produces goes to the village, while 40 percent of the money goes to the company that provides the camera.
The room the meeting was held in was not large enough to accommodate the crowd that turned out for it. Some stood in a bay to one side of the room and others stood outside near a door on the other side.
Most people who spoke did not give their names and some left after they had their say.
One person said that since the camera was put into use in late August, at least 317 tickets had been issued.
Those who receive tickets are not pulled over by an officer. Rather, an officer sits in a police cruiser and takes photos of the vehicles and their license plate number. Tickets are then mailed out by the company that provides the camera, which village police officers referred to as “Lidar.”
The first person who spoke said he had not received a ticket.
“But I think I speak for a lot of people – they don’t like the way we’re being represented as a town,” he said. “I don’t think you can call it anything but a money grab because that’s what it is.”
He said the village could be more open about what it is trying to do.
“Let me tell you what I think Lidar does,” one village council member said. “I have watched trucks and cars go by at 50 to 60 miles per hour on a regular basis. … It’s already working already. … It helps pay for police in our town.”
Some visitors to the meeting said they were glad that speeding is being reduced in the village, but added that there are multiple problems with the way tickets are issued. They complained that if someone wants to dispute a ticket, they can’t reach the 855-252-0086 number the tickets asks those with a complaint to call. They said dates are often wrong on the tickets, and that while the village has said people are not supposed to receive a ticket unless they are going 11 mph or more over the speed limit (except in a school zone), they have received tickets for going lesser speeds.
The mayor said tickets are supposed to be sent out when someone is going 10 mph or more over the speed limit in the village, unless it is in a school zone, when they are allowed 6 mph over the speed limit.
Other visitors complained about receiving tickets for a vehicle they were not driving.
Village officials said the tickets go to the registered owner of the vehicle, regardless of who was driving.
“This is your town, guys,” a visitor to the meeting said. “You’ve got everybody here against you. If (the tickets) were legit do you think we’d all be standing here?”
Hillsboro resident Raymond Page said he tried to pay a $95 ticket just before the meeting, but was told the village could not accept it because the money has to be sent to the company that supplies the camera. So he left without waiting for the meeting.
On Thursday, though, Page said his 2002 diesel pickup truck was clocked going 35 mph in a 20 mph school zone in Mowrystown on Aug. 28. But he said he had mechanical problems with the truck, took it to a repair shop on Aug. 3, and has not seen the truck since. And, he said, he was in a hospital in Batavia on the day his truck was ticketed.
“Something’s wrong. They’ve painted a picture with no face on it,” Page said.
Mariah (Wait) Davis said she was attending the meeting on behalf of her father’s, Chuck Wait, tire shop in Mowrystown.
“I can vouch for the police department and that they are good people. They have spoken with me with nothing but respect,” she said. “We just hate what’s going on with my town.”
She said that for some reason people think her father is the mayor of the town, and that during business hours on Wednesday alone, the shop took 46 calls from people complaining about speeding tickets they received in Mowrystown. She said those calls are costing the business lots of money and taking away from customers. She said she called the 855 number three times Wednesday and could not get through either time. She asked the village to fix the problem of people not being able to reach anyone at the 855 number.
“We’ll try to get it taken of as soon as we can,” Terwilliger said.
One woman who identified herself as a Main Street resident said she’s glad the camera is being used. But, she said, “I think it’s been gone about incorrectly.”
She said her main question – and she had county auditor’s reports going back to 2008 – was why there have been repeated findings against the village of improper spending year after year.
“There’s no money missing. It’s about things being put in the wrong column,” Terwilliger said.
She said she supports the police department 100 percent, and that she knows drugs are an issue in Mowrystown. She said she walks through the village at 11 p.m. nightly and see the issues constantly. She said that after her husband found a drug needle under a village Christmas tree, she called the police department and did not get a response. She said that four days later, the Highland County Sheriff’s Office came and picked it up.
Another man, identified as Jim Reed (spelling was not available), told village officials, “I support you guys 100 percent, too, but I think you need a couple more officers.”
He said he knows of heroin houses on North High Street and West Main Street, and said drug users have stolen from him. Most of the issues happen at night, he said, and that that’s when the village needs officers on duty.
“We’re taking baby steps. We’re trying to do what we can,” Terwilliger said. “There’s holes. We don’t have 24 hours of coverage. We do rotate already. But you can only rotate as far as your (personnel) will let you do.”
Last month, the mayor said the village has four part-time officers that work on a rotating basis, most them to meet certification requirements.
On Wednesday, the mayor said the village is going to put an officer on night duty, although last month he said some were already working nights in the village.
Other visitors at the meeting complained about officers parking on private property when they’re using the camera, and about credit problems and an inability to renew driver’s licenses if fines are not paid.
Before the meeting, Mowrystown Police Chief Jim Webster pointed out two devices with nails sticking out of them that he said were placed near a sidewalk on the grass right-of-way on Sardinia-Mowrystown Road. One was a fence posts with long nails welded to it, and another was what looked like a yard stick with nails sticking out of it. Webster said the devices were buried in mud and dirt and flattened all four tires on his cruiser about a week and a half ago.
He said he could not be certain, but he assumed the devices were placed there due to the speed camera.
After more than 90 minutes of listening to complaints, the council moved on to other matters. But Terwilliger indicated that the council may listen to camera complaints again at its next meeting at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 18. He said the location of the meeting could possibly be moved to accommodate more people.
“Let’s just work together and not be divisive,” the mayor said.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or [email protected]