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School board OKs red light resolution

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The intersection of 14th St. and Charles Blvd. is one of several instersections where GPD chief Mark Holtzman is proposing the installation red light cameras.

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Holly West

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

After holding a public hearing on Greenville’s proposed red light camera program, the Pitt County Board of Education voted 6-3 for a resolution supporting statutory changes that would make it possible to implement such a program.

Board members Mildred Council, Carolina Doherty, Sean Kenny, Marc Whichard, Benjie Forrest and Mary Blount-Williams voted for the resolution. Worth Forbes, Walter Gaskins and Billy Peaden voted against it.

In addition to cracking down on red-light violators, the program would create an additional revenue stream for the school system. According to the state Constitution, “clear proceeds” of fines and forfeitures must go to public schools.

The board chose to table a vote on the resolution during its April 4 meeting to find out more about what residents thought. 

Doherty said after speaking to 50 to 60 residents and getting clarification from Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman, she felt confident about voting for the resolution.

“I’d say nine out of 10 start out saying they’re for red light cameras,” she said. “One out of ten, when they listen to what the chief has shared with us, they agree wholeheartedly with it.”

Holtzman spoke at the public hearing to address common questions that have arisen.

At the April school board meeting, Peaden expressed concern that small business owners like himself would be held liable for employees running red lights in their vehicles. Holtzman said there would be an appeals process by which those issues could be handled.

“That’s simply going to be a form you download and you tell them who was driving your car,” he said.

The second misconception, he said, was that people sitting in an intersection waiting to turn left will get a ticket if they turn left after the light turns red.

The red light camera technology Greenville plans to use would take two photos, one just before a car reaches a stop line and another as the car is passing through the intersection.

Tickets would only be given out to vehicles that pass over the stop line after the light turns red. In other words, both photographs would have to show that the light is red for a person to be ticketed.

The red light cameras would be installed at five intersections: Charles Boulevard and 14th Street, Charles Boulevard and Fire Tower Road, Arlington Boulevard and Fire Tower Road, Arlington Boulevard and Greenville Boulevard and Arlington Boulevard and South Memorial Drive.

Seven additional people spoke at the public hearing. Four supported the idea of red light cameras; two opposed it; and city of Greenville traffic engineer Rik Dicesare provided information.

Greenville resident Jeff Hedrick, who has lived in Atlanta, Ga., and Jackson, Miss., and has traveled all over the country for work, said Greenville’s traffic problems are the worst he’s seen, particularly in regards to people running red lights.

He said he’s taken more than 800 trips in Pitt County as an Uber driver since October and constantly sees people speed up when they see a yellow light instead of slowing down.

“They see that light’s turning yellow, they’re gone,” he said. “The innocent Joe who’s waiting on the light gets T-boned.”

Holtzman said red light camera programs often reduce the instances of T-bone accidents, but increase the number of rear-end accidents. However, he said rear-end accidents produce fewer serious injuries than T-bone accidents.

Forbes cited that as one of the reasons he voted against the resolution. He said live officers could patrol intersections better than a camera system and the extra funding is not badly needed by the school system. 

“We’ve operated without a red light program for years and we’ve always been able to operate our (school) system, and we’re looking forward to some good budget items,” he said.

Though Mildred Council ultimately voted for the resolution, she expressed concern that the North Carolina General Assembly would manipulate or add to the changes the city of Greenville is requesting and turn the legislation into something that does not reflect its original intent. This is sometimes done by lawmaking bodies in a process known as gutting a bill, she said.

“I’m struggling with our North Carolina General Assembly for bringing this up for them to be involved in because they have not been very responsive to the citizens of this state and have not been very friendly to public education,” Council said. “They start out with one thing and they lump all these unnecessary things in it.”

The resolution approved by the board on Monday and previously by the Pitt County Board of Commissioners and the Greenville City Council raised the fine for running a red light from $50 to $100. It supports a plan that would allow the school board to return half of the proceeds to the police department.

The revenue coming back to the department is expected to fully fund the program’s cost, estimated to be about $52,200 a month.

Minority participation in construction

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board voted to set a 10 percent goal for minority participation in building projects that cost more than $300,000.

The state statute defines ”minority” to be a person who is black, Hispanic, Asian American, American Indian or female. To be considered a “minority business,” at least 51 percent of it must be owned by one or more people who are minorities or who are socially and economically disadvantaged. For publicly traded companies, 51 percent or more of the stockholders must be people who are minorities or who are socially and economically disadvantaged.

According to state law, school districts must set a goal of using minority businesses for 10 percent of the total value of work on projects costing $100,000 or more. However, for projects costing more than $300,000, the legislation directs each board to set its own goal.

The board voted to set its goal at the same level after a statutorily mandated public hearing.

Only one person spoke at the hearing, Kevin Carr of Williams and Sons Paint Company Inc. Carr said the district hiring more minority contractors would promote minority businesses and show young people, particularly black men, that they can be successful if they work hard.

“All I want to do is advocate just give us a chance, give the minorities a shot,” he said. “You won’t have as much crime on your streets if they can get a good job, if they can go to school, if they have the money to take care of their kids.” 

Board members passed the 10 percent goal unanimously without discussion. 

Other business 

Also at Monday’s meeting, the board: 

• Approved its local budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The district is asking the county to increase its contributions by $3.3 million, bringing total appropriations from the county to nearly $39.6 million. The increase is for teacher and staff pay supplements, staff development and technology needs, as well as fixed cost increases. 

• Amended the policy for renaming facilities to require any name change in honor or memory of a person be approved by a two-thirds majority of the board.

 

Contact Holly West at hwest@reflector.com or 252-329-9585. 

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