April 18, 2012

Traffic violations on the rise

By Lauren Billing
Farmer Staff Writer

With traffic violations on the rise in McKenzie County, the McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department and the Watford City Police Department have been in overdrive.
Ron Rankin, McKenzie County sheriff, reports that in 2010, his department handed out 770 traffic citations. In 2011, that number jumped to 1,046.
Slade Herfindahl, chief of police, and the Watford City Police Department has seen a similar spike in traffic violations. January through March in 2011, the police department handed out 204 citations. In the same period of 2012, they doled out 940.
Non-criminal traffic violations include speeding, failure to stop at a stop sign or red light, failure to yield, failure to wear a seat belt, violations of weight and load restrictions and parking violations. Criminal violations include reckless driving, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, driving while license is suspended or revoked and driving without liability insurance.
In the first three months of 2012, there were almost 100 citations given for driving while license was suspended or revoked, over 60 accounts of reckless driving and close to 30 instances of both driving without liability insurance and driving under the influence.
All of these tickets and citations are not what the Watford City Police Department or McKenzie County Sheriff’s Department want to see. Yet both departments are pushing for a strong, noticeable presence on the local roads and highways.
“It’s not just a ticket,” explains Herfindahl. “It’s also being visible and making people think about what they’re doing behind the wheel.”
The increase in traffic, and unfortunately, in both criminal and non-criminal traffic violations has changed the average day of the Watford City Police Department.
“Fifty percent of our day is dedicated to traffic,” says Herfindahl. “I wish we could dedicate two officers per shift to traffic.”
For every ticket that a law enforcement officer hands out, it takes another half-hour of paperwork to report the incident and comply with state requirements.
“Sometimes it’s like people think we’re getting some kind of commission off tickets,” says Herfindahl. “We’re just doing our jobs.”
Even with the huge jump in the number of violations, Herfindahl says his department is still not as strict as it could be.
“Parking Ordinance 8-1901, for example, covers parking violations for semi-trucks, trailers and other commercial vehicles. It states that in addition to the standard $100 fine, another $100 may be given for every hour the vehicle remains in violation,” explains Herfindahl. “We try to find the owner or driver of the vehicle to notify them of the violation and let one ticket suffice. We try to use it as a means to educate drivers.”
County and city law enforcement is also seeing a failure to comply with North Dakota’s non-resident temporary motor vehicle registration requirement. This registration is required for individuals who are gainfully employed or engage in any trade or occupation within the state and lives within the state for the purposes of employment or remains in the state for 90 consecutive days.
All of these violations are taking up more and more law enforcement time, but they also bring revenue into Watford City and McKenzie County.
When traffic violations are cited within the city limits, the city and county in which they were given receives a portion of the accompanying fees. Twenty percent goes to each the city and the county, with the remaining 60 percent going to the state, according to Lanae Roos, McKenzie County clerk of court. But out in the county is a different story.
“Fees for violations cited outside the city limits are sent in their entirety to the state,” explains Roos. “The county doesn’t receive any of that money.”
In 2010, Watford City received $4,562 for all types of violations, both criminal and non-criminal. In 2011, that number more than quadrupled to $19,856, accounting for just over one percent of the city’s total general fund budget. And so far in 2012, more than $9,000 has been received, according to Laura Anderson, Watford City auditor.
Matching funds have also been received by the county, but what are the funds being used for?
Anderson reports that the money given to Watford City by the county was funneled into the general fund.
“It supports the police and fire departments, pays a portion of the city planner’s and city auditor’s salary and attorney fees, helps with building upkeep and funds various appropriations,” says Anderson.
McKenzie County also moves its allotted funds into a general fund which is used at the McKenzie County Commissioners’ discretion.
“Money from the general fund could be used for anything allowed by law,” says Linda Svihovec, McKenzie County auditor. “It could go toward road and bridge projects or any other number of special projects.”
Despite the headache of increasing traffic and parking problems, funding is also increasing to help combat those nuisances, though more of both is not necessarily what Watford City, McKenzie County or its residents want to see.