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Heath Voters to Decide Photo Enforcement

Voters in Heath Tuesday decide the fate of red light and speed enforcement cameras in their community.

The cameras triggered controversy from the first day they began operating. Controversy quickly turned to outrage when hundreds of drivers began receiving $100 traffic tickets. During the first month, many drivers received multiple citations.

During weekday drive times and weekends, traffic is typically heavy in Heath along a highly commercialized, three mile stretch of State Route 79 beginning near Southgate Shopping Center, moving south past Indian Mound Mall and the city building. The area is home to several popular restaurants, a large home improvement store, WalMart, Target and a bevy of small businesses.

Heath Mayor Richard Waugh, the city's leading proponent of photo enforcement, says the program has reduced red light and speed violations. And, heated reaction to the introduction of the cameras has cooled as speed violations have dropped by 80 percent.

The cameras snapped 7,000 speeding violations in the first two weeks of photo enforcement. Opposition to the cameras began even before the first tickets arrived in the mail. Lead opponent, Heath resident and small business owner Duane Goodwin says his committee needed only a few days to gather the 200 signatures needed to place the cameras on the ballot. He questions the city's concession of a police function to a private entity, Redflex, the Australian company that operates the cameras.

Goodwin says, "We don't trust our police officers nearly as much as they're trusting this company. They're the accuser. They have the evidence, and they send you out your violation. Where's the justice in this?"

Mayor Waugh defends photo enforcement as an important safety tool saying that accidents are down between 25 percent and 40 percent.

Since the cameras began snapping pictures of speeders and those running red lights in July, traffic is noticeably lighter. Waugh admits, traffic volume is down by about 5 percent or 1500 cars per day. Goodwin says that decline reflects a drop in sales for local businesses. In a survey out last week, the Licking County Chamber of Commerce asked businesses in Heath if the red light cameras had had an impact on them. 71 percent said sales remained the same. One in four said business has declined. The survey also found nearly 30 percent of chamber members in the county have changed where they shop.

Since the cameras began clicking July 1st, Heath has issued 18,000 tickets and raked in $700,000 for a community of about 9,500 residents. That figure is about seven times what Waugh expected. The mayor says the windfall will be used to hire a police officer and a firefighter and to add signs warning motorists to slow down as they enter the photo enforcement zone.

Since he has been the chief proponent of photo enforcement, Waugh admits the issue is a major one in his re-election campaign. But he predicts voters will decide to keep the cameras and says if they do not, citations will stop the next day.

Duane Goodwin says he's confident residents of Heath will vote to take the cameras down. If they don't, he vows to take his battle against photo enforcement to the state level.