Make it or Brake it in Piperton - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Make it or Brake it in Piperton

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PIPERTON, Tenn. (FOX13) -

You may want to slow down when you enter the City of Piperton.

It's one of the worst cities for speed traps in the country, according to a list published by the National Motorists Association a few years ago, and not much has changed.

The small Fayette County city is still racking up hefty revenues from traffic violators, and some say still holding up to its reputation.

Piperton is located about 20 miles outside of Memphis. Mayor Henry Coats says 46,000 drivers pass through his city every day. He says his police force simply catches the law breakers, but some say the harsh enforcement doesn't add up.  

"This Piperton, this one town you don't come through speeding in," said Scott Thomas, fined for traffic violation.

While Piperton stretches less than 10 miles, the city hands out thousands of traffic violations, thanks to its gemstone  location connecting Shelby County and Marshall County.  

"We get a lot of customers in here talking about Piperton every time they go through there you get tickets after tickets," said Kayla Cooper, who works in Piperton.

"You feel like it's like throwing money out the window," said Billy Holland, fined for traffic violation.

The National Motorists Association called Piperton one of the worst cities for speed traps in 2007. NMA based their findings on driver reports of unfair treatment, harsh enforcement, and a one-sided judicial process.  Since then, the organization says not much has changed in Piperton.

"There's a sudden decrease in the speed limit from what Mississippi has already established is a reasonable speed on that road, 65," said Hal Rounds of the National Motorist Association. "Piperton has got (Tennessee Department of Transportation) to decrease their speed limit to 55. It's not a natural speed that drivers feel is necessary, then the cop hides in the little depression so when you come over the hill it snags you.

Rounds says speed traps exist, when traffic enforcement is focused on gaining revenue, not improving safety.  Rounds is also an attorney, who has represented drivers who argued tickets in the city of Piperton.

"Government should be of the people, by the people and for the people, not for the municipalities that's trying to get revenue," said Rounds.

Piperton racked up more than $770,000 for traffic violations in the last budget year. This budget year, the city expects an increase of about $30,000, for a total of $800,000 in traffic violation fines, which is just over a third of its overall revenue.

 "We've budgeted $800,000, but that's just based on historical data, not on a quota," said Mayor Coats.

While Mayor Coats says officers don't feel pressured to ticket, in at least the past two years police officers managed to always bring in more money than the expected revenue.    

Money generated from lawbreakers funds the Piperton Police Department made up of nine full time officers.  The entire city population of Piperton is fewer than 1,500 people.

"We're stopping violators, regardless of the amount of revenue it generates, trying to keep traffic crime if you will at bay," said Mayor Coats.

So far this year, there's been three total reported crimes, each related to domestic assault.   

"It's such a huge amount of their budget that obviously something out of whack," said Steve Mulroy, Shelby County Commissioner.

Mulroy says Memphis or Shelby County would never expect traffic violations revenue to drive in more than property tax revenue. Piperton offers extremely low property taxes, and has virtually no debt.

"Property taxes is usually your main source of revenue, and fines are just nibbling around the edges, so in order for them to create revenue from traffic fines that is 30 to 40 percent of overall revenue, that must mean they really emphasize traffic enforcement in a way I'm not used to," said Mulroy.

Some other Tennessee cities with comparable size to Piperton, don't expect even a fraction of Piperton's traffic violation revenue. For example, the city of Crump only brought in $40,000 in fines and court costs, and the city of Norris just over $5,000.   

"You've have to compare each city onto itself, you may see a smaller city or a city of like size and you're comparing apples to oranges, again our strategic location is both a blessing and a curse," said Mayor Coats.

Rounds says traffic violators who feel it's unfair need to fight their tickets and steer their problems to their board of commissioners.   

Piperton plans to draw people to its city by creating a growing, upscale and safe place. They expect more drivers to hit their streets with the opening of Highway 385 next year but driving off their well-paved reputation could prove more difficult.

So far this year, the average Piperton traffic ticket is about $130. Without the traffic violation revenue, the mayor says they'd probably have a smaller police department which would be funded by additional property or sales tax revenue.

Piperton FY 2011 Budget Summary

Piperton FY 2012 Budget Summary

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