Beginning today, Snellville Police Department will not be able to use lasers or radars to catch speeders within the city limits. This comes as a result of a continuing dispute with Gwinnett County regarding services.
Snellville police, along with six other Gwinnett cities – Auburn, Duluth, Lawrenceville, Lilburn, Norcross and Duluth – are also affected by the contention, as permits for each of the cities ended Dec. 31.
"One of the biggest problems we have in this county is the number of traffic crashes, serious injuries and deaths that occur year," Snellville Police Chief Roy Whitehead said. " Enforcement is vital to public safety.
Anything that hampers our ability to enforce speed laws makes the streets more dangerous for motorists."
Until the issue with the county can be resolved, Snellville police will have to use other means besides electronic detection to catch speeders, such as speedometer pacing. Chief Whitehead said the lack of radars or lasers "will not keep us from enforcement, but can hamper effectiveness."
The debate centers on state law, which requires that cities and counties operate under a Service Delivery Strategy, which defines the services provided by each jurisdiction and the funding. Cities with a population over 9,000, the county seat and half of the county's remaining cities with at least 500 persons must comply.
The most current agreement lapsed two years ago when the county and city governments could not agree to a new plan, according to a press release from Gwinnett County government. Without an agreement, Snellville is ineligible for state permits or financial assistance.
"Ideally, we wouldn't be in this situation," City Manager Russell Treadway said. "But, we are, and it will hurt."
It is more than a safety concern, Snellville officials said. There is also a budget concern. Writing tickets provides revenue, and right now the city of Snellville is facing a $200,000 revenue shortfall.
"It's got a direct fiscal impact for all of us, at least for all of us with police departments," Treadway said. "it puts us all in the same boat at the same time."
Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said it has been almost four years – before the agreement lapsed – that the city has been attempting a resolution. There have been at least five or six agreements, he said, that they could not reach with the county.
"We tried to settle this early; we tried to do our homework," he said. "And, they just refuse."
The city's main contention is that Snellville residents are paying county taxes for services that they do not receive. Mayor Oberholtzer said city residents not only pay for their own public safety, but that they also subsidize the safety of residents who do not live in the city.
That, he said, is not "fair and equitable."
Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners said it has tried to resolve the issue before now, but to no avail. The issue is now in the hands of Chief Judge David Barrett of the Enotah Judicial Circuit. He heard the case in the summer, and Snellville city officials have expected a ruling in the fall.
"The way I feel about it," the mayor added, "is let the courts decide, and we'll live by it."