New Miami voters hit brakes on request for additional police levy

Nov. 3—For several years when speed cameras were rolling in New Miami, the village was flush with cash, and since the cameras stopped rolling, so did big revenues. But voters on Tuesday denied a new levy to shore up finances.

The village was asking voters to approve an additional 5-mill levy for five years but the measure failed by a margin of 59% to 41% or 74 votes to 51 on Tuesday. The new levy would have reaped $114,456 annually for the village and cost the owner of a $100,000 home about $175, according to the county's auditor's office. The existing levy pulls in $86,500 and expenses for this year were budgeted at $90,000.

Mayor Stephanie Chandler told the Journal-News previously if its lucrative speed camera program remains dormant they may have to dissolve the village's police department, unless another revenue source is found. Now that the levy was defeated she said the department — that only has one full-time and two part-timers — isn't doomed, but is in trouble.

"We've been talking about the cameras for years and it's always been a thing and we have always said there's got to be a different way so let's try it. The worst thing that can happen is it doesn't pass and we're right back where we started, so we had to at least give it a shot. We're not going to lose the department but we're not going to expand on that department," Chandler said.

The village is fighting over its dormant speed camera program on two fronts. If the Ohio Supreme Court ultimately upholds Butler County Common Pleas Judge Michael Oster's ruling on speed cameras, the village must repay speeders about $3.4 million. Oster also ruled New Miami could take 10 years to repay the estimated 33,000 speeders their $95 ticket money.

The village appealed Oster's decision to the 12th District Court of Appeals and won, so the speeders took the case to the high court. The justices only accept about 6% of discretionary appeals but they accepted this one in April.

"We believe that when the government enters into a public-private partnership with the primary goal of generating revenue, the Supreme Court should review the procedures employed to assure that citizens have a full, fair, and meaningful opportunity to contest any fines," Josh Engel, one of the speeders' attorneys told the Journal-News after the 12th District decision.

The lawyers in that case expect there will be an oral argument before the high court early next year.

Chandler said passing the proposed levy wouldn't have solved $3.4 million problem if the high court decides they do owe refunds.

"It's always in the back of my head," Chandler said of the pending decision. "If that ultimately happens then asking for a police levy isn't necessarily going to do us any good. That would probably just have to be a whole other case we have to look at."

New Miami is also fighting the state over punitive new laws that have kept the lucrative speed cameras shuttered. They were forced to shut off the pole-mounted speed catchers at the beginning of the case in 2014 when the program was ruled unconstitutional.

The speeders claimed the Automated Speed Enforcement Program (ASEP) violated their due process rights because an administrative hearing based on what the camera eye had seen was used, rather than court proceedings where they could question witnesses.

The program was re-booted in 2016 with hand-held devises until a new law took effect July 2019, that makes it financially impossible for the village to operate the cameras.

H.B. 62 reduced the amount of state financial aid local jurisdictions receive by the amount they collect annually in speed camera ticket revenue. It also mandated the courts handle speed camera citations as civil proceedings that include court fees and costs. The village estimated it would cost $612,000 in court fees, and tickets were only generating about $222,000.

Butler County Common Pleas Judge Greg Howard denied the state's motion to dismiss in March 2020 but hasn't ruled if the state's law is constitutional or not.

About the Author

Denise Callahan

Denise has been reporter with Cox since 2006. She covers Butler County including all elected office holders, departments and independent boards; Liberty, Ross and West Chester townships. She strives to deliver the most impactful, comprehensive and crucial information about all aspects of local government to her readers every day.