PRAIRIE CITY, Iowa (KCCI) -- Dick Haws doesn't like to take interstates. He typically takes two-lane roads — "blue highways" as he calls them — they're red on his Rand McNally atlas, but he says they're blue on most.
But, there's one two-lane road he won't soon forget.
"Went through Prairie City on Highway 117, what a mistake, cost me $200," he said from his Ames living room.
Two hundred bucks for a quick trip through the small town, caught twice going 11 miles over the speed limit.
"36 in a 25," he said.
A few days later, he received two letters in the mail, each a $100 civil fine for a speed camera violation. Haws says one came from the fixed-speed camera and the other from an officer using one. He payed them both but admits he waited until the last day to do so.
"It is a racket," said the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa policy director Pete McRoberts of the speed cameras in the small town and across the state. ACLU of Iowa has been vocal about its opposition to the cameras or "Automated Traffic Enforcement" devices, often called ATE.
Prairie City has four cameras, two outside of the school in town on South State Street, one for officers to use as a handheld camera and one on Highway 163 westbound just west of the Prairie City exit.
Prairie City Mayor Chad Alleger says the town is safer because of the speed cameras and the one on Highway 163 was built because students in the area from Prairie City-Monroe High School drive on that highway.
"We have students that drive to and from both communities. That's huge," Alleger said. "For me, I have a daughter that just graduated, and with her driving to Monroe every day back and forth, you know, safety is number one."
He adds that he welcomes people to Prairie City and wishes the monthly ticket statement was at zero, meaning no one was caught speeding.
"Our hope is, once you get the ticket, the next time you come through Prairie City, you realize, 'Oh, I have to slow down,'" he said.
Still, the small town is making big money on the cameras. Since the city turned them on in fiscal year 2020, Prairie City has made $2.38 million in revenue. KCCI Investigates requested the number of tickets written, and the money the city made, using an open records request. The city said it could only give the number of tickets that were paid, which is 34,515 in that period.
So far, in fiscal year 2022, the city has collected cash on 25,660 tickets, with roughly two months left to go. In fiscal year 2022, those 25,660 tickets raked in $2.83 million dollars. A third-party company, Blue Line Solutions, owns and operates the cameras and gets 40% of the cut but does reimburse the city for officers' time. Still, Prairie City has made $1.72 million in the fiscal year 2022. That money is roughly 42% of its total revenue, according to the city's budget. It's also about 2.5 times more than the city budgeted to collect in property taxes.
"Why does any citizen of Prairie City have a utility bill?" asked McRoberts. "Why do they have a water bill? Why aren't those streets paved with gold with the amount of money that's coming into the town?"
The city is using the money to help pay for a new fire and EMS building, renovate the library, reconstruct alleys, relocate water lines and fix its tennis courts.
"It helps pay for things, so we don't have to raise taxes," said Mayor Alleger, highlighting those projects. "Our tax levy is the same as it was last year."
Mayor Alleger believes the cameras are doing their job.
"I know people get frustrated," he said. "I mean, I speed, I do, okay? You know where I don't speed? Des Moines, Windsor Heights, Cedar Rapids because they have cameras, and everyone talks about them. So, I make sure that I'm watching my speed in those communities. That's what I'm hoping these cameras do. People will think twice when they go through Prairie City to keep it down."
Still, it's a two-lane road that Haws won't drive on for quite some time.
"I'm not going through Prairie City again," he said.
A bill to limit the use of speed cameras in Iowa did not make it out of committee this session in the Iowa Legislature.
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