Hernando County may as well get in red-light camera business, too

Red-light cameras — those despised, legally questionable, driver-gouging red-light cameras — are coming back to the city of Brooksville.

Sensys America Inc., the Miami-based company providing the cameras, will start putting them up this week at three busy intersections south of downtown.

And here's what I'm wondering: What's the county waiting for?

Oh, I know. The technology is hard to love.

For every study that says it saves lives, you can find another saying otherwise.

The law justifying its use is, if possible, even murkier. Can you really stick the owners of cars with hefty fines — $158 in Brooksville's case — when you can't prove they were driving at the time of the infraction? Some judges have said yes, some no.

And you'd think that when the city automates part of the Police Department's work, it could do with less manpower. Manufacturers don't pay for expensive robots and then keep assembly line workers around just to be nice, right?

But, no, the added work of reviewing images from the cameras will require two new part-time officers, costing a total of about $33,000 a year.

So why urge the county to follow the city's lead?

Well, because when the state Legislature grabbed about half the revenue from red-light cameras two years ago, it also actually did something constructive — eliminating the one feature of camera programs that most undermined the argument that they were about safety, not revenue.

Most of the tickets previously were for slowly turning right on red, which no longer warrants a fine.

So, the drivers ticketed will be ones truly running red lights, the ones who deserve to be ticketed.

And the last time Brooksville used red-light cameras, from 2008 to 2010, they clearly cut down on dangerous driving, said Brooksville police Chief George Turner. Traffic accidents in the city were down about 35 percent.

I don't know exactly how he came up with those statistics, but I do know how I drove through the U.S. 41 corridor south of Brooksville when the cameras were in place — especially after I'd paid a couple of those fines — very cautiously.

The last reason for the county to approve cameras is, of course, money. Potentially a lot of it.

Making up for the red-light bucks the state now claims, and the lost revenue formerly collected for rolling right turns, is the new territory the state opened up for camera installation two years ago — the rights of way along state roads.

That means the busiest intersections. And Brooksville will eventually have 20 cameras at them. Even after splitting the proceeds with Sensys, the city expects to collect $600,000 before the end of the fiscal year.

So, yes, this is a tax, and not the fairest tax.

For a single mother who has just spent the last dollar of her paycheck at Save-A-Lot, a fine of this size is not a bummer; it's a disaster.

But one of the finalists for county administrator told the County Commission the truth last week during his interview. The county is so broke it has little choice but to raise taxes this year, he said.

And what are the prospects of that happening without the political cover (good old public safety) that red-light cameras provide?

Well, on Tuesday, that finalist didn't get a single vote.

Hernando County may as well get in red-light camera business, too 04/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 8:09pm]

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