SEBRING — For Susan Greene Gossick, a Highlands County resident posting on Facebook, the idea of law officers issuing more speeding tickets on U.S. 27 to reduce accidents and increase revenue “sounds like a win-win.”
But local law officers say contrary to what the public may believe, traffic ticket revenue can’t replace property tax dollars.
In fact, according to the Highlands County Clerk of Courts office and the Sebring City Clerk’s office, most of the revenue from traffic tickets doesn’t go directly to a law enforcement agency.
When someone gets a ticket for driving six to nine miles per hour over the speed limit, the fine is $123 and only $2 of that goes to a law enforcement agency. And that money can only be used for education and training.
Mark Schrader, chief deputy for the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, said even if the situation were different and the sheriff’s office would get more money, that’s not the solution for Sheriff Susan Benton, faced with cutting more than $1 million from her budget.
“We would certainly not go out there to write citations to generate revenue,” he said. “Our deputies write more warnings as an education tool than writing traffic tickets.”
Similarly, Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said the Sebring Police Department would not follow the example of the town of Waldo in north Florida.
Waldo was threatened with being abolished as an incorporated city because of its reputation as a speed trap.
“Our goal is compliance, not to issue citations,” Carr said. He added that officers are sometimes reluctant to issue tickets because fines have increased substantially over the years. Someone driving six miles per hour over the speed limit would pay $123, and someone going 15 miles per hour, double that.
“One speeding ticket could be a family’s entire paycheck for the week,” he said.
If all the police department does issue tickets, then “discretion goes out the window and that’s not a good way to conduct police business,” Carr said.
When a person receives a ticket for driving six to nine miles per hour over the speed limit, the revenue from the fine is divided as follows, according to the Clerk of Court’s office: $5 for a driver education program, $2.85 for teen court, 15 cents for a teen court service charge, $30 for court facilities, $2 for local law enforcement education or training, $3 for court costs, $2.50 for court costs for the Clerk of Courts, $30 for court costs, $30 for the Clerk of Court Trust Fund, $5 for the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund; $3.33 for the State Attorney’s Revenue Trust Fund, $1.67 for the Public Defenders Revenue Trust Fund, $12.50 as an administrative fee for the Clerk of Court Trust fund and $3 for a state radio system surcharge.
There’s also a $25 statutory base fine that includes a $2.50 fine, $1 for the Child Welfare Trust Fund, $1 for the Juvenile Justice Trust Fund, $12.50 for the Radio Communications Program, 25 cents for the Non-game Wildlife Trust Fund, $1.60 for the General Revenue Fund, 56 cents for the Emergency Medical Services Trust Fund, 40 cents for additional court costs, 64 cents for the Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program Trust Fund, 16 cents for the Florida Endowment Foundation, 4 cents for the Clerk of the Court, $4.37 for a Clerk Fee or $3.94 for a municipality and 43 cents for clerk of the court if the citation is issued in the city limits of Sebring, Avon Park or Lake Placid.
Between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014 there were 9,359 traffic citations issued, which generated $1,760,922. Much of the revenue is sent to the state for the trust funds.
As for issuing more speeding tickets on U.S. 27 to reduce accidents, Schrader said he believes more accidents are caused by failure to yield or drivers going through stop signs or traffic signals.
He said the sheriff’s office lacks personnel to concentrate on U.S. 27.
“All of our deputies are assigned to zones,” he said.
Both Schrader and Carr said their law enforcement organizations, though, sometimes have concentrated traffic enforcement efforts when a problem is perceived, though not on a daily basis.
Many of the posters on Facebook said that they feel more driver education and more frequent retesting could reduce the number of accidents. They said they feel careless driving and failure to yield may cause more accidents than speeding.