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Brooksville gives traffic cameras, fire fees a second look to fill budget gaps

BROOKSVILLE — Facing more gloom in its budget projections next year, the City Council is considering bringing back its red-light camera program and adopting new fire service fees to make up the shortage in property tax revenues.

Council members Emory Pierce, Lara Bradburn and vice mayor Joe Johnston expressed interest at a Tuesday evening financial workshop in reinstalling the cameras at the five city intersections that had them until the council voted to remove them last fall.

Over the 23 months they were in use, the cameras provided a steady revenue stream, earning the city $563,000, according to figures provided by finance director Steve Baumgartner. Police Chief George Turner said he favored bringing back the cameras because they had significantly reduced traffic accidents.

With the shift in the council's political makeup, the prospect of the cameras return seems promising.

Pierce, who replaced camera opponent Richard Lewis, said he favored reinstalling them with conditions. He said the cameras would be a good law enforcement tool and a financial caveat for the city provided they earned at least $50,000 annually.

"They still have to show they're a reasonable deal," Pierce said. "If not, it's not worth the trouble."

Council member Joe Bernardini, a staunch red-light camera opponent, said that he hadn't seen enough evidence that the cameras worked as well as Turner claimed.

"We still have no idea of what the accident numbers were before and after the cameras," Bernardini said. "That's important to me."

The council also agreed to take another look at using fire assessments as a method to partly fund the fire department, which is financed out of the general fund.

Homes in the city with a taxable value of $50,000 now are exempt from paying for fire service. Last year, the city adopted an assessment mechanism that would have charged a set fee for every residence, and assessing businesses, churches and government buildings based on square footage.

However, the council ultimately scrapped the plan after several Brooksville business owners complained the fees were inequitable and in many cases, excessive.

Council members said they felt the assessments could help alleviate the strain on the city's finances and asked that staff work with attorney Mark Lawson on a plan that would better balance the cost of service based on the frequency of calls for residential and commercial properties in the city.

"Fire service is essential to everyone in the city," Bradburn said. "We need to find a way to pay for it that's fair to everyone."

The matters are to be brought back for discussion before the council on March 7.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Brooksville gives traffic cameras, fire fees a second look to fill budget gaps 02/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 23, 2011 6:08pm]
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