BROOKSVILLE — The Brooksville City Council has given a green light to its on-again, off-again red-light camera initiative. Only this time, the financial returns aren't likely to be quite as great.
The city's five red-light cameras were switched off June 30, the day before a new state regulation was to go into effect, because city officials were unable to come to terms with the camera vendor, American Traffic Systems. Council members also said they wanted more data as to their effectiveness in reducing accidents.
The cameras will return once the city selects a vendor from four proposals.
During Monday night's council meeting, police Chief George Turner praised the system for its effectiveness, saying that traffic accidents at red-light camera intersections had dropped by 35 percent.
"They never cost us anything," Turner said, adding that the cameras' round-the-clock operation freed up police officers for other duties.
However, council members Richard Lewis and Joe Bernardini said they were skeptical of the benefits touted by supporters of the cameras. Both voted in favor of pulling the plug on the program.
Lewis pointed out that in 2008 a state law prevented the city from putting cameras on state rights of way. But that thinking changed once the Legislature learned how lucrative the cameras could be. With the new law in place, the state would receive $83 from every $158 citation issued. The city would share the remaining $75 with the camera vendor. "That tells me it's not really about safety, it's about revenue," said Lewis.
Bernardini, a longtime opponent of the cameras, said he had a problem with the citation being issued to the car's owner and not the driver of the vehicle.
Although statistics show that 97 percent of citations are issued to vehicle owners outside the city limits, Mayor Lara Bradburn said she was convinced that the red-light cameras had changed the driving habits of Brooksville residents. "It's statistically proven to me," she said. She and two other council members, Joe Johnston and Frankie Burnett, voted for the cameras.
Turner said that the city is examining proposals from four red-light camera vendors, none of whom are ATS.
With a 50-50 split, the city would receive $37.50 from every citation issued, raising an estimated $350,000 over and above the employee cost of running the program. Before the state law took effect, the city's cut of the citation was $80.
Turner said he also hopes to install additional cameras at other busy intersections, including the one at Wiscon Road and U.S. 41, which he said had a high rate of red-light runners.
Several residents spoke out against the cameras, including Brooksville businessman Dan Patrick, who said he feared they were giving the city a negative image. "I know people who won't come to Brooksville because of the red-light cameras," he said. "That's not good for our city."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.