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Speed cameras could fund alternative correctional program

Washington County Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore says his proposal would provide funding for a day reporting center as well as increase safety in school zones

April 10, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

Without a sustainable revenue stream, a $2.5 million request to create an alternative correctional program, has been eliminated from Washington County’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14, but the county’s sheriff has suggested speed camera revenue as a possible solution.

The county, which cut about $5 million in expenses to balance its proposed $201.1 million spending plan for the coming fiscal year, would not have the long-term funding to support a day reporting center, according to Debra S. Murray, director of the county’s Office of Budget and Finance.

“If this program were instituted, it would take a new sustainable revenue source for that,” she told the Washington County Board of Commissioners during a budget discussion Tuesday.

Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore, who made the initial request in late February, offered a possible solution to the funding issue.

Mullendore said automated speed cameras — much like those in Hagerstown and other county municipalities — could be installed in various school zones throughout the county. He estimated that 10 to 12 cameras could bring in about $2 million annually to support the day reporting center’s yearly operating costs of about $1.5 million, most of which would be for a contractor to operate the program.

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Mullendore has said the day reporting center, which would be similar to another in Franklin County, Pa., would alleviate projected overcrowding and needed expansion of the county’s detention center.

The initial request of $2.5 million would cover about $1 million for renovations and startup costs of the center, which would be in the former Phoenix Color building near the detention center.

Mullendore, a “firm believer” in the day reporting program, said it would allow the county to educate and treat people with drug and alcohol problems, which are a direct link to burglaries and other crime in recent years. He said that the detention center currently has a 78 percent recidivism rate for repeat offenders.

“What this will do is allow us to provide education and prevention for these folks so we can make them successful members of our community and stop that cyclical effect of committing crimes to support their habits,” he said.

Not only would the speed cameras provide funding for the center, but it would also increase safety around school zones, Mullendore said. Speeding has been an issue near Paramount and Maugansville elementary schools, he said.

Mullendore said he’s already consulted with the Hagerstown Police Department and the city’s camera vendor, Brekford, and he was encouraged that the commissioners looked favorably upon his proposal.

“It’s just another step in the safety of our kids in the school environment,” he said.

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham, a Hagerstown resident, was in favor of pursuing the speed cameras as a dual solution, saying she’s seen the cameras’ effect first hand on Northern Avenue, where speeding has noticeably decreased.

“They do work, and I’m convinced they have saved property and lives,” she said.

Mullendore has said that incarcerating a person at the detention center costs about $64 a day while daily treatment at the reporting center, which could initially handle about 150 qualified nonviolent offenders, would cost about $26.

The four commissioners in attendance Tuesday did not have any immediate objections to pursuing the speed camera option. Commissioner John F. Barr was absent.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said it may be difficult to get all the pieces in place for implementation with the proposed budget, although a good goal would be to have the program in motion by next fall for the start of school.

Murray said the cameras could be “substantial” for the community in the long run by making the roads safer but also helping people with substance abuse problems become productive members of society again.

“This is something that is self-supporting,” he said.

The implementation of speed cameras in school zones would be a topic during a public hearing on the budget prior to its final approval, Murray said. The 2013-14 fiscal year begins July 1.

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