BROOKSVILLE — For nearly two years, Brooksville's red light cameras have been a touchy issue.
Proponents say the automated surveillance system has made city streets safer for motorists and pedestrians; those on the other side dismiss the cameras as nothing more than a gratuitous money grab.
Though the arguments will likely continue, the cameras may not. The City Council, minus member Joe Johnston, voted 4-0 Monday night to temporarily suspend the red light camera program July 1 while it sorts out a revised agreement with its camera vendor, American Traffic Systems.
The current contract with ATS is set to expire June 30. According to police Chief George Turner, the proposed contract calls for the city and ATS to evenly split the $75 collected from each $158 citation written after July 1. Under a new state law, the state would keep the remaining $83.
Currently, the city gets $80 and ATS $45 from each citation; the state gets nothing. From November through April, the city collected a total of $465,545 from red-light violators at four intersections in Brooksville.
The city had been negotiating the contract in conjunction with modifying its 2-year-old red-light camera ordinance to meet new state standards. Because council members didn't see the new ATS contract until just minutes before the meeting Monday night, they voted unanimously to reject it.
Discussion of the issue uncorked a heated debate over the merits of the red-light cameras by council members on both sides of the issue.
Vice Mayor Richard Lewis, who had previously voiced his displeasure with the cameras, announced he was ready to "pull the plug" on the program because he was no longer convinced of its effectiveness in curbing accidents.
"It's only a revenue source," Lewis said. "I want someone to show me the number of accidents they've prevented."
Lewis, whose views were supported by council member Joe Bernardini, was quickly confronted by Mayor Lara Bradburn, a staunch supporter of the red-light camera program, who challenged Lewis' assertions that the cameras had no impact on accident rates.
Bradburn said that statistics show a 35 percent reduction in accidents in the city since the cameras were installed.
"That's pretty significant to me," she said.
Bradburn noted that the absence of the cameras would probably mean having to beef up traffic patrols with more police officers.
"That's less time for our officers to go after criminals, prostitutes and drug dealers," she said.
Lewis said he would be willing to revisit the issue at the council's next meeting July 19, provided he is given more information on how effective the cameras are in preventing crashes at intersections.
"I want to see figures," he said. "If I'm convinced, I can change my mind."
Logan Neill can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1435.