Friday, January 7, 2011

Chevy Chase Village Shifts Expenses to Avoid Camera Fund Restrictions

We previously reported on Chevy Chase Village's Speed camera fund budget, which seemed to be shifting resources to speed camera program 'expenses' in order to circumvent a restriction in state law which limits the amount of speed camera revenue "after expenses" which a local government can collect to 10% of their total budget. Any excess beyond 10% is supposed to go to the state.  Any revenue supposed to be spent on "public safety", however this term is not defined.

The Gazette reported in November on a specific list of salaries worth $334,000 which are now paid for out of speed camera funds as expenses of the program.  The list included 100% of the salaries for 2 police officers and 1 police corporal, 33% of a 'police staff' member, and 25% of the police chief's $128,544 salary.  The list also included :
  • Village manager, $109,824 annual salary, 25 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($27,456)
  • Finance director, $78,332.80 annual salary, 25 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($19,583.2)
  • Director of Municipal Operations, $78,332.80 annual salary, 67 percent paid by Safe Speed Funds ($19583)
Apparently these three employees are now either "program expenses" or "public safety".  The shift was apparently made only recently: "Until last year, portions of salaries that are now paid for by the Safe Speed Fund were paid for by the tax base." wrote the Gazette.  The Village claims that "the decision was made because those employees had begun dedicating a greater portion of their work day to Safe Speed Fund-related issues".  This increasing need for labor support for the program is despite the fact that the number of citations issued declined from FY2009 to FY 2010.  It is curious that they require substantially more labor to process fewer tickets.  The Chevy Chase also stated 'the village has more public safety projects' that they need to oversee.

We previously reported how the Village creatively interpreted the requirement that funds only be used for 'public safety' to include items such as a Segway, a new office for the police chief, a locker room, copy machines, and new cable TV conduits.

The Gazette now reports that the Village is considering funding an additional $400,000 of its police budget out of the Safe Speed funds, meaning a total of 60% of the town's police will now be run of of the speed camera program.  This has provoked a minor controversy on in the town's leadership.  The Village Manager and the Village treasurer support using SafeSpeed funds to close the town's gaping budget hole, but others were unsure.  Board member Patricia Baptiste expressed reservations, and was quoted by the Gazette saying "I think Safe Speed money is the crack cocaine of local government."


It is interesting to note that the attorney general's office wrote a letter of advice to Chevy Chase regarding the application of state law to their speed camera fund:  Read advice letter here.  "Thus, it is my view that, after costs of implementing and administering the system, any fund balance from fines remaining at the end of fiscal year 2010 (June 30, 2010) and each fiscal year thereafter that is in excess of 10% of total revenues for a political subdivision, must be remitted to the Comptroller for deposit to the general fund of the state.  it is further my view that any funds collected under a speed monitoring system that are not spent or encumbered by the political subdivision by June 30, 2010 will be included in the balance remaining from the fines for the purpose of determine whether the balance is greater than 10% of the total revenues of the political subdivision."  Translation: the state needs money too.  We note that Chevy Chase had approximately $3.9million left in the safe speed fund, of which $1.5million is not yet committed to any purpose, an amount far in excess of 10% of the village's budget.

On one hand, the Village's efforts to shift funds shows yet again that the restrictions built into the law are easily circumvented by local governments which want to increase revenue from the cameras.  But is also shows that in this specific case the cameras are being used as a sort of "reverse robin hood", taking revenue rightfully belonging the less affluent parts of the state for the benefit of one of the most wealthy jurisdictions.  Most of the town's speed camera revenue comes from cameras placed on Connecticut Avenue, a state highway paid for with state, not local, money.  The median family income in Chevy Chase Village is in excess of $200,000 compared to around $69,000 for the state. Yet despite this incredible concentration of wealth, CCV still apparently has money troubles which can only be solved by extracting money from a state-taxpayer funded road.

The responsibility to collect any amount Chevy Chase owes to the state would apparently fall upon Maryland's Comptroller.  Perhaps our readers living in other parts of the state who's taxes pay for Connecticut Avenue and other state highways may want to write to the Comptroller and ask them to investigate whether Chevy Chase Village is paying their taxes?