Council considers funding school bus stop-arm cameras

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

The Dubois County Council heard a request Monday from county school districts asking that the county reimburse the districts for the money they spend to install school bus stop-arm camera on buses.

“Once the cameras are in place,” Northeast Dubois Superintendent Bill Hochgesang told the council, “I think we’ll find out there are a lot more violations out there than we know.”

Council members said they will consider the request. In the meantime, they asked the school district superintendents to also approach township officials to get funding help.

Hochgesang talked to the council on behalf of all the district superintendents. He and the superintendents from the other three school districts in the county also talked to the county commissioners earlier this month about the funding.

Since then, the Dubois County Community Foundation has said it will give the schools a grant this year and next year for the cameras, though Hochgesang said he doesn’t yet know how much that will be. Also, a patron has contacted Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools officials and offered to pay for two buses to receive the cameras.

The superintendents have also heard from parents asking if all the buses will have the cameras. “So we want to have all buses equipped in three years,” Hochgesang said.

There are 83 school buses on the roads in the county, he said. The only school district that has a bus already outfitted with the cameras is Southwest Dubois.

“We want to do [the buses in] our most dangerous areas first, putting them in this summer,” Hochgesang explained. The others would be done next year and the year after, he said.

The request is for the county to provide reimbursement for outfitting 12 school buses, which totals about $22,000.

Councilman Craig Greulich, who is a substitute bus driver, said he wants to make sure that cases are prosecuted. “Either we’re going to prosecute, or not,” he said. “If we’re going to do it, we want to put teeth into this.”

Hochgesang said the sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office are in full support of pursuing and prosecuting the cases with the video evidence. “We need the cameras to prosecute,” he said. “The cameras won’t lie.”

A new state statute allows the county council to reimburse school districts for the costs. It also allows a fee to be charged for each successfully prosecuted case, which would go into the fund. Once the schools are fully reimbursed for all of the buses, they cannot receive any more funding for the project. Council President Jerry Hunefeld wasn’t sure if that meant that future fines put into the fund after that could be used by the county.

He asked if townships or any other taxing unit where the buses run could help with this funding. Hochgesang said that he wasn’t sure and would ask the school district attorney. County Auditor Sandy Morton said that since the statute specified county council, the other taxing units likely could not be reimbursed with any revenue in the designated fund.

Councilman Doug Uebelhor said the school districts in surrounding counties do not have the cameras, and are not asking for the county’s assistance to purchase them. “They said they would seek grants,” he said.

Uebelhor said that Washington Community Schools, the district where he works, has cameras, and has caught violations; but they haven’t seen any money in fees come back. The fees are tacked on to the financial penalty rendered in a guilty case; but it doesn’t guarantee that the fine will be immediately paid.

The Washington school district also installed LED lighting to get drivers’ attention when the stop arms go out, and saw a decrease in violations. Hochgesang said that is something he would look at doing as well.

“We want to prosecute, and we want the county involved,” Hochgesang said. “We want to educate the public that running stop arm is a terrible thing. [With the cameras], we are going to see an increase in prosecutions.”




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