PORTERDALE - Recent figures on the number of speeders driving through Porterdale prompted Police Chief Wayne Digby to ask the council's consideration for adding a traffic enforcement officer to the force.
Digby told the council at the Oct. 5 City Council meeting that statistics recorded by the Newton County Sheriff's Office mobile radar unit, which was placed on Crowell Road for six days in September, showed that of 13,876 vehicles traveling south toward the four-way stop at Crowell and Ga. Highway 81, 10,503 were speeding. Of that figure, Digby said, 809 were traveling more than 16 mph over the speed limit. The fastest vehicle during that six-day period was traveling 85 mph. The speed limit on that stretch of road is 35 mph.
Digby said that having an officer presence in the area would help to reduce speeding, which would translate into fewer accidents.
Councilman Mike Harper made a motion that the chief be allowed to hire the officer, but other council members balked, saying that was the first they had heard of the request and that they didn't have enough information to make a decision. Harper ultimately withdrew his motion and the council decided to postpone discussion of the matter until a later work session.
Councilman Lowell Chambers said he could not support the measure without more information.
"I'm fully prepared to support this proposal when somebody shows me some statistics to see where the dollars are going to come from, and I haven't seen that," Chambers said.
City Manager Tom Fox said in a later interview that an additional officer would cost the city approximately $42,000 in annual salary and benefits. In addition, the officer would require an additional patrol vehicle. While some new revenue could come from traffic fines, the city typically keeps only about 60 percent of fines, with the balance going toward surcharges and other statutory requirements, he said. The city is already projected to be about $50,000 under budget in court fees and fines this year, Fox said.
Digby said Monday that he is aware of Porterdale's budget constraints; however, his job is to protect the public safety and he felt he had to make the request.
"All they can do is tell me no," he said.
In other council news, several proposed changes to the city charter, including giving the mayor a tie-breaking vote, were nixed in a 3-2 vote.
Councilwoman Linda Finder made the motion to cancel any proposed changes to the charter based on the cost of having the changes written by the city's attorney. Chambers pointed out that City Attorney Tim Chambers estimated the changes would cost more than $5,000 in legal fees.
Councilwoman Arline Chapman argued that the changes should be discussed and prioritized at a work session before canceling them altogether.
Finger's motion was seconded by Councilman Robert Foxworth and supported by Councilman Harper. Chapman and Chambers were opposed.
The council also voted to take the next step in the project to restore Porter Memorial Gymnasium, which was gutted by fire several years ago.
The council voted to spend about $51,000 of special purpose local option sales tax funds to pay for architectural plans for stabilization and re-roofing of the remaining gym structure. The SPLOST funds were earmarked for the restoration project in a 2005 referendum.
"We can't move any further (with the project) until this is done," said City Manager Fox.
Finger made the motion to fund the architectural plans. Chambers seconded the motion, which was approved unanimously.