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Fines from speeders to re-zoom

COBURG, Ore. — There’s no need to speed when going through Coburg.

The city’s annexation of 60 acres east of Interstate 5 becomes final Wednesday, placing a stretch of the interstate inside city limits and allowing the city to cite freeway speeders into its municipal court.

That’s not an idle threat.

Coburg Municipal Court records show that the city of 1,000 collected $755,000 in traffic fines last year, 45 percent of the $1.7 million general fund budget and about $750 for every man, woman and child.

By contrast, the city of Eugene, with a population of 140,000, collected about $3 million in 2003-04 fines and bails for all types of offenses, including misdemeanor crimes and parking violations. That’s about $21 per resident.

Coburg Police Chief Mike Hudson defended his city’s aggressive prosecution of speeders, and questioned the relevance of a per capita calculation based on residential population.

“We have an employment base of 5,000,” he said. “And we have tens of thousands of people that travel through the city every day on Interstate 5.”

The city’s access to I-5 fines was temporarily disrupted last January, under a new state law prohibiting cities from citing drivers into their municipal courts for tickets written outside their city limits.

Dubbed “the Coburg law” by some motorists and traffic officers from other jurisdictions, it was introduced by then-state Rep. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene, after constituents complained that Coburg had set up a revenue-factory speed trap on Interstate 5.

Coburg’s officers continued to patrol the freeway even after the city could no longer collect the fines.

“That we’ve continued to do this for 10 months now is rather telling that it wasn’t simply done as a revenue item,” Hudson said. “Speed kills, and it’s a safety issue.”

Though the annexation will allow Coburg to resume keeping revenue from I-5 tickets, it’s not likely to end criticism of the practice.

“Coburg is one of several communities taking advantage of legislation passed to allow justice courts to generate their own funding,” said Dan Swift, president of the Oregon State Police Officers Association. “But they seem to be somewhat unique in their zealous enforcement.”

Former Springfield Police Chief Bill DeForrest said he used to be a critic, but his research has turned him around.

“I did discover that the stretch of I-5 they were patrolling seemed to be the safest stretch of the freeway,” he said.

“I also found they weren’t ticketing anybody for less than 80 miles per hour, and frequently for 90 plus. For crying out loud, nobody ought to be driving 80, 90 or 100 miles per hour on the freeway.”


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