OLDSMAR — After a long delay, city leaders have once again given red-light cameras the green light.
The City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a five-year contract with American Traffic Solutions to install the cameras at four intersections and enforce violations.
A year ago, city leaders unanimously okayed the cameras, but they stalled the plan two months ago after Mayor Jim Ronecker questioned the accuracy of the technology.
The tide turned again last week, after the city held a work session on the topic. But Vice Mayor Doug Bevis, who opposed the contract Tuesday, still had reservations.
He was bothered by how much money goes into state coffers from the tickets and how that money is used. City leaders plan to dedicate the revenues to public safety or transportation needs.
A 2010 state law lets cities install cameras and charge a $158 fine to the registered owner of any vehicle caught on camera running a red light. The cities get to keep $75 from each violation. The state gets the rest, which includes $70 for the state general revenue fund, $10 for the Department of Health Administrative Trust Fund and $3 for the state's brain and spinal cord injury trust fund.
"While I can say that, at least while we are on the council, we will take our portion and put it to safety, the state is not doing that and it bothers me." Bevis said. "I'm tired of the state Legislature trying to balance their budget on the backs of our citizens."
Ronecker said the work session last week eased his concerns about the technology. It also allayed worries about overly strict ticketing.
Much of the data involving red-light cameras shows that violations tend to decrease over time. That means revenue generally takes a dip, too. Some cities end up owing vendors money. Both Ronecker and City Council member Janice Miller wanted assurances that the city wouldn't be on the hook if that happens.
City Attorney Tom Trask guaranteed that. According to the agreement, the city will pay $19,000 a month to lease cameras at four sites. American Traffic Solutions will be paid from collections from the violations. But if the city doesn't make enough to cover monthly lease fees, it won't be responsible for the difference.
Brian R. Fluegeman, senior business development manager for American Traffic Solutions, previously told the council that his company generally selects sites that average at least 10 red-light violations per day.
One intersection selected by the company was Forest Lakes Boulevard and Tampa Road. That intersection saw 61 crashes from November 2010 through last Sunday, according to data from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. The information includes traffic from all directions. During that period, the Sheriff's Office issued 35 tickets at the intersection for red-light violations.
But not all of the sites selected experienced a high volume of accidents. The other three saw between five and nine crashes over that time frame, while several other intersections in the city logged anywhere from 10 to 20 crashes.
Council member Jerry Beverland, a staunch supporter, said the cameras send a message to motorists: "What we're telling people is 'Do not speed through the city of Oldsmar. Do not run red lights in the city of Oldsmar 'cause we want to keep our city safe on the highways.' "
The cameras should be installed within four to six months, said City Manager Bruce Haddock. For 30 days after cameras are activated, motorists who are photographed running red lights will receive warnings with no fines.
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.