County can now keep ticket revenue

Commission adopts state code, dedicates fines to pay for traffic unit

Mesa County roads, and sheriff’s deputies, are now under the Model Traffic Code for Colorado.

Monday the Mesa County Commission unanimously adopted the code, which allows revenue from traffic citations issued by Mesa County Sheriff’s Department deputies to be retained and used right in Mesa County.

The Sheriff’s Department will enforce the code with its new traffic unit, which has two deputies. A federal grant will add five deputies to the unit in the coming months.

“Nothing will be different,” insisted Heather Benjamin, Sheriff’s spokeswoman.

Benjamin said the Sheriff’s Department has always done traffic enforcement and its deputies have always handed out traffic tickets. The only change, she said, is that the revenue is staying in Mesa County instead of being sent to the state.

That revenue will be used to pay for the department’s new traffic unit.

In the past, Commissioner Craig Meis has expressed concern that deputies would be
motivated to issue citations to generate revenue and might issue frivolous citations.

Sheriff Stan Hilkey, who did not attend Monday’s meeting, has always responded to such complaints by saying that the deputies have been given clear instruction to only issue citations in clear-cut instances where public health and safety are in danger.

Meis’ concerns have not been enough to keep him from voting against adoption of the traffic code. On Monday, he kept silent and voted with the majority.

Because the code is an ordinance, it had to be introduced last month and 30 days were allowed for the public to comment before it was given a second reading on Monday and formally adopted.

No one from the public commented on Monday.

“This will address a great need in Mesa County,” said Commissioner Steve Acquafresca.

He added that he has a measure of faith in county deputies that they will not overreach their authority, saying they will be “even handed” in dealing with the public.

Commissioner Janet Rowland said she favored the ordinance because it will help the department do its job.

“They are already overwhelmed on the number of calls they take,” Rowland said.

Although the department does some traffic enforcement already, Rowland said deputies currently don’t usually have time to deal with traffic issues because of the large call load for assistance. The traffic unit will allow some deputies to concentrate almost exclusively on traffic.

Traffic, as recent county surveys of residents have found, is the No. 1 concern of county residents.


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