One of the most reliable controversies, and one that has recurred frequently, is speed traps.

Yes, people should not exceed speed limits.

No, small towns’ problems are not going to be solved by milking the revenues from traffic tickets.

The Advocate’s review of financial records shows that speed traps are rising, despite long-standing efforts in the Legislature to tamp down the number of tickets written by small-town officers.

The number of Louisiana towns, villages and small cities in which fines make up at least half their revenues has risen from 15 in 2007 to more than 25 in 2018. The same review of state audits of local finances shows that 60 other municipalities reported that fines and forfeitures accounted for more than 30 percent of government revenues. That’s up from 28 in 2007.

Not surprisingly, either, property taxes — the money that typically pays for local services in most of America — are not able to pay the freight in these communities. We have a high homestead exemption, and in many small towns, a large part of the taxable residential property generates little or no property tax.

The Advocate found that 194 of the state’s 304 incorporated cities, towns and villages raise more in fines and forfeitures than they do in property taxes, according to the latest financial audits.

“That’s the symbol of a broken system when you have to depend on preying on people to pay your bills,” said Robert Scott, head of the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana. PAR is a nonprofit Baton Rouge-based government policy analyst. “If you’re protecting people, that’s OK, but if you’re protecting services, you need to re-examine.”

We like safer driving, but it is more than a little phony to say that all the above numbers reflect that motive. Rather, this is representative of a crisis in small-town Louisiana that is assuming big proportions.

The number of smaller communities where the state has had to appoint financial overseers is rising. Many not on well-traveled highways have opted to use water or sewer fees to pay the bills because there is little or no property tax base.

As retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore argues on behalf of the Green Army environmental group, lead contamination in poorly maintained water systems is a potentially giant problem for taxpayers. The poster child is St. Joseph in Tensas Parish, where Gov. John Bel Edwards had to deliver water and tap state and federal funds to rebuild, essentially, the water system.

As the general says, there are more St. Joes out there. The state’s chief health officer, Dr. Jimmy Guidry, said that one estimate is that $5 billion might have to be spent statewide.

Small towns will continue losing population to the cities, residential taxes to the homestead exemption, and commercial establishments because those “follow the rooftops,” to borrow a real estate phrase.

Local government in Louisiana has many problems. Instead of a Band-Aid approach to such challenges, we urge Louisiana’s universities and other experts to start a discussion about small-town life. Resuscitating these communities, often rich in history, is valuable in itself, but it’s also protecting taxpayers elsewhere from the consequences of further declines.