Lockhart PD to reinstate STEP enforcement plan
By LPR Staff
After taking a year-long break in participation in the Selective Traffic Enforcement (STEP) Program, the Lockhart Police Department has asked the Lockhart City Council to approve ramped up traffic enforcement in the community.
Lockhart Police Department Sgt Paul Ibarra and Capt. John Roescher approached the council on Mo
nday evening to ask them to consider applying for a STEP grant, which will allow the department to pay off-duty officers to engage in a traffic enforcement program on state highways, including Highway 183, Highway 142 and FM 20 East and West. Though the department participated in the program for several years in the past, that participation fell off as staffing problems plagued the department and council withdrew their support, citing concerns that Lockhart was growing a reputation as a “speed trap.”
Roescher and Ibarra, however, presented reason for the council to reconsider their support.
“Our figures show that when we were participating in the programs, our number of traffic accidents went down sharply,” Roescher said. “Since we stopped participating, the numbers have come back up, to the point that we had fewer than 100 accident in 2005, but well over 125 in 2007.”
Ibarra said the figures for 2008 were not yet available, but he expected the numbers to continue to climb.
District One Councilmember Kenny Roland, an adamant detractor of the program in the past, was the first to voice his opposition to renewing the program.
“I’ve always been against this program, because I feel like there are other ways to control speed,” he said. “With this program, there are… it’s not a quota, but it’s a guideline, and that’s used to generate revenue for the city and the Municipal Court. And I’m just not sure that’s the thing we should be doing, or the way we should be doing it.”
Roland also voiced concern that the STEP Program is costly to citizens, not in the cost for officers, which is paid for entirely through grant funds, but in the cost to those receiving tickets.
“When you go out there and you’ve got someone that’s paying $3.92 for gas and struggling to keep food on the table, and then you hit them with a speeding ticket, I don’t know,” Roland said. “Or when you get someone that’s got a commercial driver’s license and can’t keep that with a speeding ticket – now you’ve done this program and you’ve changed someone’s life for the worst.”
District Four Councilmember Richard Banks disagreed with Roland’s assessment, based on the information presented by Ibarra and Roescher.
“If 67 percent of the people driving through town are speeding at more than 10 miles over the speed limit, that’s a problem we’ve got to address,” he said. “I think… the police department has the enforcement policy in place, and the cities that are ‘speed traps’ are places that look for one mile over the speed limit, or any other little violation.”
Under the City of Lockhart’s uniform traffic enforcement policy, which will be followed by the officers working the STEP Program, warnings, rather than tickets, should be issued for moving violations within a specific framework, which includes those traveling nine miles or less over the speed limit.
Roescher, Ibarra, City Manager Vance Rodgers and later, LPD Chief Mike Lummus assured the council that all Uniform Traffic Enforcement policies would be adhered to under the STEP Program.
The council finally agreed to participation in the program for the period of one year. Roland alone voted against the grant, while District 3 Councilmember Lew White was absent from the meeting.
In other business, property owner Dennis Rassi approached the council to request a zoning change for his property located off City Line Road, near where construction of State Highway 130 has been proposed. Although much of Rassi’s property lies within a flood plain, he requested the council change the zoning to Residential – High Density, which would allow him to potentially develop a retirement community on the buildable portion of the property.
The council resisted making the change, citing concerns about the available infrastructure and the nature of the flood plain on the property.
Additionally, Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram noted an anecdotal tale about the construction of the highway. He said he had heard from mayors of other communities affected by the construction that some property owners had requested zoning changes prior to the state’s acquisition of right of way for the highway in an effort to drive prices up.
“I’m not saying this property owner is trying to do this, because I don’t think he is,” Bertram said. “But I have heard about things like that, and those kind of changes put the cities in the middle between the State and the property owner, and that’s not a place we want to be.”
Although the council could not take action on a broader policy regarding zoning changes in the SH-130 right of way, it was suggested that a change in that policy could be forthcoming.
In brief news:
Bertram read a proclamation in support of the Lockhart Police Department and other emergency services declaring Oct. 7, 2008, National Night Out in Lockhart.
The council heard from Finance Director Jeff Hinson regarding the adoption of an investment policy for the City of Lockhart. Municipalities are required by state law to review and approve their policy every year. Hinson said no substantive changes had been made to the policy since last year; however, he cautioned the council to remember that the Texas Legislature would be in session and might impose changes next year.
The council heard information regarding the proposed tax rate and budget for the coming fiscal year. Present figures indicate the city’s budget will hold largely level, with a tax increase of only $0.0016 per $100 of valuation. The council will hold their final public hearing and vote on the budget and tax rate during a special called meeting on Thursday, Sept. 25, beginning at 6 p.m.