WATERLOO — A new policy governing city traffic ticket revenue was adopted despite objections from the police chief and mayor.
Waterloo City Council members voted 4-3 Monday to approve a resolution requiring any ticket revenue exceeding the police department’s budgeted amount to be set aside in a separate account and used two years later for “property tax relief.”
Police Chief Dan Trelka read a statement urging the council to reject the proposal.
“This resolution is detrimental and would actually negatively impact public safety in the city of Waterloo by having an adverse impact on police operations and police officer morale,” Trelka said.
“Traffic tickets are written to improve the safety of a community,” he added. “It just so happens that the residual effect of a traffic ticket is revenue. This resolution puts the emphasis solely on revenue.”
Councilman Steve Schmitt, who authored the resolution without staff input, was joined by Bruce Jacobs, Chris Shimp and Margaret Klein in supporting the measure. Council members Sharon Juon, Pat Morrissey and Jerome Amos Jr. voted against it.
The move follows a resolution two weeks earlier, approved along the same voting lines, directing police officers to write municipal infractions instead of state citations for traffic tickets and other violations wherever possible.
Jacobs said the move results in cheaper tickets for those committing violations and allows revenue currently going to the state government to instead go into city coffers.
Schmitt said his proposal was designed to designate the new revenue for tax relief instead of allowing it to be spent in the police budget.
“We’ve talked about gaming, we’ve talked about a number of things throughout the years that were going to have relief for our property taxpayers,” Schmitt said. “But every time we have this revenue we typically find someplace else to spend it.”
Schmitt’s original proposal would have blown a $225,000 hole in the police budget because it did not specify only increased revenues would be segregated for tax relief. The resolution was later amended to leave the budgeted amount intact.
While Schmitt said he was “blindsided” by Trelka’s objections, Mayor Quentin Hart said he had informed Schmitt there were potential problems with the resolution to be worked out before it was brought up for a vote.
“I did indicate that there were some challenges with this and you told me to tell the clerk to put in on the agenda,” Hart said to Schmitt.
Hart said the revenue generated by police tickets is already being used for property tax relief because it reduces the amount of taxes the department needs to balance its budget. Without the $225,000 in budgeted revenue next year, the city’s tax rate would be 10 cents higher, he said.
Hart said the adopted resolution means the new revenue from the police tickets will not be available to use when setting a budget next winter for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Council members adopted a similar resolution to segregate revenue generated by automated traffic enforcement cameras for use in future budgets. Hart said that was different than the regular traffic citations because the automated enforcement was a new revenue source.
Morrissey decried the lack of a council work session to discuss the proposal and get staff input before it was brought to a vote. He also said tying up the money hurts the city’s general fund balance and removes flexibility for the city to pay its bills and deal with unforeseen financial challenges.