Board questions Vaughan's request

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — Grayson’s new sheriff wants the county to earmark certain monies received by his department for special police activities, but county supervisors said they were concerned that deputies would raise money for the department by writing more traffic tickets.

Grayson Sheriff Richard Vaughan asked the Grayson County Board of Supervisors last week to create a “Police Activity Fund,” but the board requested more time to make a decision.

The funds requested to be set aside are those recovered through the court system from motor vehicle violations generated by the sheriff’s department.

The funds are sent to the state’s general fund, but Vaughan said the county can create an ordinance to keep that money in Grayson.

“Money is already being generated in Fries and Independence” in this way, Vaughan said. “Both localities have adopted this ordinance.”

He added that several surrounding areas — such as Galax City and Carroll, Wythe and Smyth counties — have adopted it, as well.

Supervisor Chris Morton asked what percentage of the funds would go to the sheriff’s department and what would go back to the county.

Vaughan said most funds are set up on an 80/20 basis, but he said the county had the final say in the percentage breakdown.

All traffic charges, such as speeding, reckless driving and driving without an operator’s license would be included. On average, a speeding ticket can cost $150.

“That’s money the state is getting, when it could be coming to the county,” Vaughan said.

The funds could be used for part-time personnel, purchasing vehicles and equipment and other department needs.

“So this is a fund-raiser,” questioned Supervisor Larry Bartlett.

“This is money the county is entitled too,” Vaughan said. “We should not be distributing that money to the state when it could be kept here.”

Chairman Mike Maynard asked if Vaughan would object to the county keeping all the money received.

Vaughan said he would have no problem with that.

“I’m glad you are looking for ways to support the department,” Maynard said. “My concern is that we’ll be giving the deputies incentive to go out and write more tickets, so the department receives more money.”

Vaughan insisted the idea is not to raise money for the department, but to help install new programs and new equipment.

He plans to begin a traffic safety program in the county, and the funds would help move that process along.

The county does not operate radar, so statistics about the number of speeders is a bit skewed. The only officers that run radar in the county are Virginia State Troopers, and only three are assigned to Grayson.

“Seems to me we are finding a solution to a problem we don’t even know that we have,” Maynard said. “I’d like to see if we have a traffic safety problem beforehand.”

Vaughan noted that Grayson County had the sixth highest fatality rate in Virginia for 2004.

“Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death among teenagers,” he said. “I’m not doing this to generate revenue, I’m doing it to save lives.”

He added that while the number of speeders in the county is unknown, the majority of fatalities in Grayson are due to excessive speed.

Supervisor Joe Vaughan said, “it’s bound to be a problem or we wouldn’t be asking VDOT to lower the speed limits on all these roads.”

The sheriff’s department would first use a warning system, to give residents a chance to slow down voluntarily.

Vaughan again stressed that the safety program “is not a way to generate funds, but it is the best way to catch people using drugs. The easiest way to get them pulled over is for speeding.”

Supervisor Doug Carrico worries that the state would find someway to get back the money they would lose, if Grayson kept it. “Are they going to penalize us somewhere else, or say we don’t need to send the department money, because they are already getting this much?”

Vaughan assured the board that, while working at Wythe County Sheriff’s Department, he never saw a decrease in the amount of state money sent to the department.

“I simply do not have enough information to make a decision,” Bartlett said. “I need more time, and with that said, I make a motion to postpone it until the chairman places it back on the agenda.”

Carrico seconded the motion.

“During the time, is there any way we can talk to other counties to see if they were charged somewhere else for the lost money?” Carrico asked.

Vaughan noted that traffic violation statistics are available on the Department of Motor Vehicles Web site.

Bartlett clarified his motion. “I make a motion, not against you, but citizens have said it’s an effort to raise taxes, without raising taxes.”

Vaughan also said the department would be eligible for grants to get radar for the vehicles, and the county would not have to pay anything.

“Put radar out there and see what speed people are traveling on these roads,” Maynard said.

Vaughan noted the DMV has stationary radar that can be placed on bridges, trees or wherever convenient to record speeds and collect data.

“How soon can you get one of those?” asked Maynard.

“It just depends on how many other requests they have for them. Maybe a couple weeks,” Vaughan said.

“I’d like to see some statistics before we consider this,” Maynard said.

With that, the board voted unanimously to table the issue until further information was available.

Vaughan was successful in asking the board to appropriate $30,000 from the Special Law Enforcement Fund to be used for drug investigations.

He noted the funds in the account came from asset forfeitures from drug investigations and must be used solely for that purpose.

“It’s a good idea, and I’m glad you are doing it,” Maynard said.

With that, Supervisor Vaughan motioned to approve the appropriation; Morton seconded it and the board passed it unanimously.