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Ogdensburg police chief weighs in on former school zone speed

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The chief of police is recommending that city council take down the 20 miles per hour speed zone signs near two former school buildings in the city because in his view they are no longer allowed or enforceable under New York state Vehicle and Traffic Law.

Ogdensburg Police Chief Richard J. Polniak has informed City Manager John M. Pinkerton in a letter dated Aug. 13, that it is his interpretation of state vehicle and traffic law that his department will not have the legal authority to enforce the reduced speed limits still existing in neighborhoods near the former Lincoln Elementary School and St. Marguerite D’Youville Academy. Both school campuses closed their doors earlier this summer.

Last month the Ogdensburg City Council tabled a resolution calling for the 20 mph school zone limit along Gates Street, Jay Street, Judson Street, Knox Street, Mansion Avenue and South Rosseel Street to be raised to 30 mph. At the time council members said they wanted more information on whether the special school zone speed limit of 20 mph could be kept in place now that the schools located in the area have closed.

In particular, Councilwoman Jennifer Stevenson voiced concerns that neighborhood children might still be using the school sports fields and playground as a place to gather, even though the schools themselves are officially closed.

However, in his letter to the city manager, Mr. Polniak said that if the municipality has received “official notice” from both the Ogdensburg City School District and the Catholic Diocese that the two former school campuses are no longer being used for educational purposes, then there will be no legal authority for either establishing or maintaining a special school zone speed limit in the area, under state vehicle and traffic law.

Consequently, Mr. Polniak said, his officers would not have legal authority to enforce the 20 mph speed limit.

“In that case there would be no legal way to establish a school zone for the purpose of regulating speed in those areas,” Mr. Polniak wrote. “Those locations would no longer fit the definition of a school speed zone under the NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law.”

Added Mr. Polniak, “I would suggest that Council approve the dismantling and removal of the signage in those particular school speed zones that no longer exist.”

City officials will revisit the speed zone issue Sept. 8 at their next regular council meeting.

Councilman Michael D. Morley, the only board member to vote last month against tabling the speed zone resolution, said he hopes his fellow council members move quickly to change the speed zones around the former schools, and raise the limit to 30 mph.

Mr. Morley said he believes city officials have more pressing business to take care of besides quibbling over the speed limit in front of vacant school buildings.

“We’ve got our opinion, we’ve got his interpretation, and now somebody has to take it off the table,” Mr. Morley said. “I didn’t want to table it anyway. The New York State law has clear guidelines.”

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