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Red light cameras could nab 150 motorists per day when St. Petersburg installs them

ST. PETERSBURG — When the city installs red light cameras in the coming months, officials anticipate nabbing up to 150 offenders every day.

The projection, based on reports from cities that already have them, would translate into roughly $2.5 million to $4 million a year for city coffers, depending on where the cameras are placed and the cost of the program.

The cameras are still six to 12 months away from being installed, but in a briefing Thursday, staffers told the City Council that they will put cameras at 10 intersections. Those locations have not been decided.

Earlier this year, the Legislature gave local governments the authority to install cameras and charge a $158 civil fine to drivers who are caught, clearing up ambiguity caused by legal challenges. The state is still formulating guidelines on how programs must run.

Camera proponents say they make drivers more conscious about safety. Opponents say they can cause more rear-end crashes when drivers slam on their brakes to stop at yellow lights.

If the violation occurs on a city or county road, the city receives $75 of the fine, and $45 if the red light is on a state road. Transportation and Parking Department director Joe Kubicki said it's likely that some cameras will be placed on state roads.

The city also hasn't decided whether to buy the cameras or contract with a vendor to provide the service, though the latter seems likely.

Of about 400 other red light camera programs that staffers researched, they found only one that didn't use a vendor — Washington, D.C. That was in part because of how long ago it was put in place, Kubicki said.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster's proposed budget for the next fiscal year conservatively counts on getting $250,000 from camera citations for the last half of the year, budget and management director Tim Finch said.

The inclusion concerned some council members Thursday. They said it made it seem as though money, not safety, had prompted the program.

"That wasn't what this is about," council member Jeff Danner said. Including it in the budget makes it feel like "we've got to go out there and give tickets and make money now," he said.

City Administrator Tish Elston said putting a line in the budget was just the next step. The red light revenue makes up about a tenth of 1 percent of the total budget, so there will be little impact if the $250,000 estimate isn't met, Finch said.

"It's really not a factor in balancing the budget," he said. "It's a safety issue."

Red light cameras could nab 150 motorists per day when St. Petersburg installs them 08/12/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 10:58pm]
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