NEW PORT RICHEY — Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips wants the city to consider pulling the plug on its red-light cameras.
During a City Council meeting Tuesday, Phillips directed the city staff to report back on the costs of doing away with the cameras. A couple of residents had spoken up and asserted that New Port Richey's red-light program isn't about safety. Instead, they said, it's a money grab.
Phillips said he wants to look at the city's contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that runs the program, to see if there would be a financial penalty for pulling out. This year the city allotted $553,000 in the budget to pay ATS.
"I just want to see what the exit cost would be. I think we need to recognize there are constituencies on both sides here," Phillips said in the meeting.
He later told the Times he wants the report to be part of budget submissions this summer so the council can see all options. He also wants a detailed look at crash statistics in the city in order to examine safety concerns that have been raised.
"I just think it's the perfect time to look at the whole program in its entirety so we can see where we are," he said.
In May, finance director Doug Haag reported the city faces an $800,000 shortfall of projected revenue from the cameras. Officials expected to reap $1.15 million from the seven cameras but are only looking at about $350,000.
The shortage is due to fewer violations and a backlog of red-light citations in county court, Haag said. Backlogs have been a problem statewide, and Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a law mandating cities create a special magistrate system to allow motorists another avenue to appeal their tickets.
On Tuesday, the council adopted an ordinance establishing its special magistrate system, which led resident Alexander Snitker to question whether a magistrate hired by the city could be impartial. He said he fears "people will unfairly be levied fines and taxes."
Assistant city attorney Jim Lang said motorists who receive red-light tickets can still contest their citations in county court.
Former council candidate Michael Malterer — who made opposing the cameras a cornerstone of his campaign in April — called on the council to end the program. In an interview Wednesday, he said he welcomed Phillips' call for talks, but is still considering a petition drive to take the issue to a vote in April.
"At some point we have to have a real conversation about this," Malterer said.