LONE JACK, Missouri - For the first time since a so-called speed trap law was passed in 1995, a Missouri town has paid the state for excess revenue collected from traffic tickets and fines.
The Department of Revenue has confirmed that it received a payment, but would not divulge the amount or city. However, the City of Lone Jack told NBC Action News it sent a check for $19,205.47.
During a November investigation , NBC Action News discovered the statute—known as the Macks Creek law—is nearly impossible to enforce.
It is supposed to limit the amount of revenue local governments can collect make off traffic fines on state and federal highways, capping that amount at 35 percent. Anything extra is supposed to be turned over to the state, which then distributes the money to schools.
NBC Action News identified Lone Jack as a community that wrote a large sum of traffic tickets compared to its population size. In 2009, police officers wrote 3,331 tickets, mostly along Highway 50. More than half of the city’s revenue was generated from court fines and costs.
Even though it seemed like Lone Jack was over the Macks Creek limit, it was difficult to know for sure. The municipal court did not track which tickets were issued on state and federal highways, and which were issued on city streets. Also, Lone Jack did not track how much of their court revenue comes specifically from traffic violations.
"To be honest with you, I don't think the state knows if the money we sent in is the right amount," said Lone Jack Mayor David Keener.
The recent payment will be distributed to Jackson County school districts. Keener said the amount received by each school will be minimal, but it the total represents more than half the salary of a city employee. He will ask local lawmakers to repeal the statute.
"In a sense, once we get to that 35 percent threshold, we work for the state free of charge. We're making money for the state at no expense to them," said Keener. "But our police aren't going to back off once we reach that cap for the safety of our people."
The NBC Action News investigation was launched after a report from the Missouri State Auditor busted the tiny town of Randolph for breaking the Macks Creek law. The audit estimated Randolph generated between 75 to 83 percent of its revenue from traffic violations on 210 Highway. It also estimated the town owed the Department of Revenue $39,575 to $53,878.
To date, Randolph still has not paid any money to the state. And as the NBC Action News investigation found out, there is no agency in charge of enforcing the law, leaving communities in charge of policing themselves.