Bradenton renews red light camera contract for two years

myoung@bradenton.comJuly 17, 2014 

BRADENTON -- Municipalities throughout Florida, including Bradenton, continue to interpret the impact of a state Supreme Court ruling in June that red-light cameras installed before 2010 violated the state's uniform enforcement law because the state had yet to authorize the use of cameras.

City Clerk Carl Callahan said Wednesday the city has set aside more than $200,000 collected from three city cameras installed prior to 2010. But there's a long way to go before understanding the ruling's impact, he said, because it was a ruling on an individual case and not a class-action suit.

"There are still some defensible arguments to make," said Callahan, noting the city will not likely begin the reimbursement process until further legal decisions are made.

The ruling did not apply to red-light cameras installed

after July 2010.

With its camera provider contract expiring in August, the city council Wednesday approved a two-year extension with ACS, the provider of the cameras.

The vote was not unanimous and not without debate.

Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo said he supports the city using the cameras for safety, not to make money.

"The perception this community has is that the red-light cameras are revenue-producing," he said.

But Callahan acknowledged the cameras do create revenue, at around $150,000 annually, although most does not go to the city. Each violation carries a fine of $158, and Callahan said about half of that is taken by the state, with the contractor receiving the lion's share of the remaining half.

Vice Mayor Bemis Smith has opposed red-light cameras from the beginning and renewed that opposition Wednesday. He pointed to crash data that shows no significance change.

At the intersection of Manatee Avenue West and U.S. 301, there were 21 crashes in the three years prior to the cameras, and 19 crashes in the first three years with cameras. The numbers are similar at all red-light camera intersections, except at Seventh Avenue East and Ninth Street East where there were 21 crashes prior to the cameras and 10 after the they were installed.

However, at Ninth Street West and Third Avenue West, there were five more crashes after the cameras were installed than in the same time span before.

"The state gets half the money, we see relatively no benefit in reducing accidents and we have very low numbers anyway," said Smith. The cameras were purposely placed at high traffic flow locations "to catch as many people as possible," he contended. "Since it hasn't reduced accidents, we are essentially being a money-collecting arm for the state and a private company and this is not a benefit to the citizens."

Gallo said the only complaints he receives from citizens are ones who are ticketed.

"If we can go back and save one life, then it's worth it," he said.

Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. said the cameras have been effective in changing the habits of drivers and an untold number of accidents that may have happened without that change in behavior is something data will never show.

The city currently has seven operating red-light cameras; the contract allows for up to 13 and calls for three more cameras to be installed within the next two years.

Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff said he reluctantly supported the cameras when they were first proposed. But after driving city streets and witnessing how much more careful people are at all of the city's intersections, he said he will continue to support them.

"They are not hurting anyone unless you are breaking the law, and we certainly don't encourage the breaking of laws in our city," he said.

Smith said he will continue to oppose having the cameras.

"I would venture more lives are lost by people speeding and, as a small government conservative, if we are only saving one life then I would advocate that this city is reckless in that we don't force everyone to have a GPS that shows they are speeding so we can ticket them," he said. "If we keep following the adage that we save just one life, then the government will overreach on everything."

Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.

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