TAMPA — Red-light cameras were scuttled in St. Petersburg and dragged into a political battle in Tampa, but they're not going anywhere in unincorporated Hillsborough County.
County commissioners affirmed their support for the cameras during a discussion Wednesday prompted by recent votes to end them in Tampa Bay's two biggest cities.
"This is a cost-effective public safety tool we can use to save lives on our roads," said Commissioner Kevin Beckner. "To suggest otherwise would be inaccurate."
St. Petersburg's council killed the cameras there, effective in September, because they aren't projected to pay for themselves this year. Tampa's council voted to end them in the city because members didn't like how the money was being spent, but that vote is likely to be reversed.
Neither of those fates likely await Hillsborough's camera program. The cameras pay for themselves, bringing in about $1.7 million annually while costing the county about $576,000. And commissioners do not have problems with where the money goes — into the general fund, where it helps pay for things like the Sheriff's Office, Fire Rescue and parks. The city of Tampa has previously used its money the same way.
Hillsborough's program is smaller than either of the city programs, with 10 cameras at six intersections. St. Petersburg has 22 cameras at 10 intersections; Tampa has 51 at 21 intersections.
While the cameras do generate money, commissioners said they support them because they make intersections safer.
"The goal of this program is simply to save lives," Commissioner Ken Hagan said.
Hillsborough County sheriff's Col. Greg Brown spoke at Wednesday's meeting at the request of Commissioner Les Miller. After three fatalities between 2006 and 2008 at the intersections where cameras were installed in 2009, there has been none since, and citations have gone down every year, Brown told commissioners.
"Driver behavior is changing," Brown said.
Miller asked if the county should add more cameras. The Sheriff's Office considers that every year, Brown said, but it hasn't recommended an expansion yet. The county's contract with American Traffic Solution is up for renewal in December.
Brown pointed out the Sheriff's Office ignored a recommendation by American Traffic Solution that would have brought in more money — ticketing every driver who rolls through a right-on-red. Hillsborough tickets only drivers who make rights on red at 15 mph or faster, Brown said.
For each $158 citation, $75 goes to the county, while $83 goes to the state. American Traffic Solutions gets a set fee of about $48,000 per month regardless of the number of citations.
"This was not designed as a moneymaking thing, but a public safety event," Brown said.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.