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Florida Town Hates 'Speedtrap' Label

Date: August 14, 2003



WALDO, FL – Much like U.S. 301 splits this north Florida town down the middle, a billboard warning that the town is a speed trap has residents divided.

In the latest salvo of an 8-year-old war with police Chief A. W. Smith, the American Automobile Association has erected a black and yellow billboard on the highway between Waldo and Starke, northeast of

"Speed Trap," the sign says in black block lettering inside a bright yellow diamond. Beside it, yellow on black, is the word "Waldo." Under that: "6 miles ahead."

A similar billboard warns motorists about Lawtey, about 20 miles north of Waldo. They are the only two towns in the
United States specifically designated by AAA as "traffic traps."

Randy Bly, community relations director for AAA, said the billboards are a first for the auto club, which has carried warnings on the Internet and in material it supplies to motorists.

"We want to get out the message for people to slow down," Bly said.

Smith, who has been fighting with AAA since 1995 over his ticketing practices, assessed the billboard bluntly: "It's stupid."

He pointed out that AAA didn't even put its name on the sign. Smith insists Waldo is not a speed trap, adding that the town issues only 17 citations a day.

Jim and Dena Rice, who run Waldo Hardware, have argued for years that strict traffic enforcement hurts business in the town of 7,400.

"AAA didn't single Waldo out," Jim Rice said. "Waldo singled itself out." Roscoe Arbogast, owner of Arbogast Piano Co., thinks the Waldo sign is appropriate.

"I think the police are a little too aggressive. I think they stop a lot of people for nothing," he said. "It's not good for business."

Tom and Mary Ramsey, who own Tom's
Cypress, a wood shop along U.S. 301, believe AAA should stay out of the town's business. "AAA is way out of line," Tom Ramsey said. "It (the billboard) is a lie. It's not true."

Speed limits through Waldo range from 55 to 35 mph, except for school zone, which is the state minimum of 15 mph.

The issue, Smith said, is not revenue for the city coffers from speeding citations, but safety. In the past nine years, despite its heavy traffic, there have been only two fatal accidents in Waldo.

But Bly said both Waldo and Lawtey derive a good portion of their town budgets from tickets.

In 2002, Waldo issued 6,539 tickets. For fiscal year 2001-02, traffic fines were 38.7 percent of the town budget and 105 percent of the police budget, according to AAA.

Lawtey issued 5,257 tickets in 2002. Traffic fines accounted for 34 percent of the town budget and 98 percent of the police budget, AAA said.



from CBS News


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