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Manatee County halts talks on red-light cameras

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission has stopped negotiations with the company it hired to install and operate an automatic camera system to catch red-light runners.

In voting Tuesday to sever talks, the commission also directed county staff members to bring the issue back for discussion after the Florida Legislature adjourns in the spring.

But commissioners vowed to try other methods to get the system up and running.

Although ACS State & Local Solutions Inc., of Fairfax, Va., has installed three cameras at intersections in Manatee, they have never been operational.

The system uses high-tech cameras to snap photos of violators as they drive through intersections when the light is red.

Commissioner Larry Bustle noted that the county has put a lot of work and effort into the system, and should look for alternatives.

“To have it fall apart is a very disheartening thing,” he added. “It truly does save lives, and it’s the right thing to do.”

At the advice of County Attorney Tedd Williams, the board decided to halt negotiations with ACS State & Local Solutions.

Company and county officials have been unable to negotiate a contract amendment or new agreement after legislators last year passed a law instituting regulations governing such systems statewide, officials said.

The company contends the county is in breach of contract, and seeks more than $603,344.38 in costs.

The county contends it is not responsible for the delay in the enforcement program, and disputes the company’s monetary claims.

One issue is paying for sheriff’s personnel to issue citations and notices of violation, Williams wrote in a letter sent to the company Tuesday.

The project has also become financially unfeasible because the new state law pre-empted fines the county had established. The county must now remit to the state $83 of each $158 citation, Williams wrote.

The company should make immediate arrangements to remove the cameras, he concluded.

Commissioner Michael Gallen suggested a partnership with the city of Bradenton, which contracted with ACS before the new state law went into effect. Bradenton’s program became operational in 2009, and the city has seven cameras operating at various intersections, according to police.

“I do hope we look into this to improve public safety in our community,” Gallen said.

Melissa Wandall, 44, a Tara resident whose husband, Mark Wandall, was killed in a 2003 accident caused by a red-light runner, was disappointed with the latest developments.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “I love Manatee County, and they have been a huge support to me in my endeavors, and they know full well how badly the traffic system is needed in our county.”

During the aftermath of her husband’s crash, eight ambulances and numerous police cars and fire trucks responded to the scene, she noted.

“The taxpayers pay for those crashes,” she said. “So somebody needs to start realizing we’re already spending money on these crashes, and they need to collectively put their heads together and find out who is going to fund these cameras so, ultimately, lives can be saved.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.

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