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Hernando commission moves forward with referendum on red-light cameras

BROOKSVILLE — Even though they know they can't force Brooksville to end its controversial red-light camera program, Hernando County commissioners agreed Tuesday to ask voters what they think about the cameras in next year's general election.

And if voters turn thumbs down, cameras would be prohibited in other parts of the county.

Tuesday's agreement allows the county legal staff to draft language for the November 2014 ballot, asking voters if they want to prohibit red-light cameras in Hernando County. The language then must be approved after a public hearing.

While the city says it initiated its camera program to enhance safety, many critics — including the sitting county commissioners — say its purpose is to make money.

"This gives the public an opportunity to express strategically the outrage that I hear,'' said commission Chairman Dave Russell, who suggested the referendum. "Folks are fired up about this issue. It's an opportunity for people to speak.''

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he has talked to state legislators about the red-light camera issue, and no one has brought up safety. Instead, he said, they speak about the millions of dollars the state would lose if they were to cut out the tickets for the most controversial aspect of the program — right turns on red.

"It's a bunch of money,'' Russell said, predicting that the vast majority of voters will agree to prohibit red-light cameras in the county.

And it is not just residents, Commissioner Nick Nicholson said.

"The business owners in Brooksville are against them,'' Nicholson said.

"They're losing business over this. People don't want to come to Brooksville. They go around Brooksville,'' he said.

Some people even drive through parking lots around Brooksville to avoid the intersections with cameras, he said.

In a related matter, Commissioner Diane Rowden said she spoke with a Brooksville City Council member this week who suggested that the county simply ask the city to remove the cameras at the intersections of Cortez Boulevard and Cobb Road and at Wiscon Road and U.S. 41

Because the county owns property at those two intersections and commissioners want those cameras gone, the county attorney's office has been working to find a way to make that happen.

Also Tuesday, several county residents continued to push commissioners to add a second to yellow lights to give people more of a chance to stop before lights turn red. County officials said they are in the process of increasing yellow signals slightly on lights in Brooksville, according to a new state formula.

Yellow lights will also be lengthened slightly at appropriate intersections in the rest of the county when the work in Brooksville is completed, officials have said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Heard county officials report that they are receiving complaints from Spring Hill residents about the proposed new fire fees that will be considered during a public hearing on July 9. Commissioner Wayne Dukes asked for a workshop on the fees and other ambulance-related issues, but instead the board decided to have a full discussion on the day of the hearing.

• Approved the concept of giving preference to local businesses as the county chooses companies with which to do business. The idea has been discussed before, but the commission had not followed through. An ordinance establishing such a preference requires a public hearing, and one is slated for July 23.

• Heard a list of pleas from animal rights groups. They included concerns about the county levying fines for animal ordinance violations well in excess of the $500 ceiling provided for in state law. They also wanted to decriminalize the feeding of feral animals, see the county's noise rules match those of the state, and sought fair and equal treatment for dogs accused of being dangerous. The commission asked County Administrator Len Sossamon to bring back proposed solutions.

Hernando commission moves forward with referendum on red-light cameras 06/25/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 5:59pm]
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