BROOKSVILLE — Since red-light cameras came to Brooksville, the number of traffic violations and revenue have gone up.
The Brooksville Police Department said Tuesday that it projects collecting nearly $1.1 million in revenue in the first year of the city's red-light camera program. Because of the windfall, police Chief George Turner has asked the city for permission to add three full-time traffic officers.
"The whole idea is to make it a safer city," Turner said. "We're obviously busy and we're working hard to keep up with things."
Turner deliberately laid out his case for a new traffic enforcement unit Tuesday night at a city budget workshop. During his 45-minute presentation, Turner offered some statistics from the first few months of the red-light camera program and then followed with his pitch for the traffic officers.
Four traffic cameras have been installed at some of the city's busiest intersections since March, and a fifth one aimed at the southbound lane of Cobb Road and West Jefferson will start operating within the next 30 days.
Red-light runners are ticketed $125, with camera vendor American Traffic Solutions getting $40 and the city receiving the remaining $85. Motorists are photographed by the cameras twice, as they approach the light and then while crossing the intersection. The cameras also shoot a video, which is available for the violator to view online.
ATS screens the pictures and videos first and sends what they believe to be legitimate violations to the Police Department. An officer then reviews the images and determines whether the motorist ran the light. The fines are civil penalties and do not cause points to be added to a motorist's license.
Since April, Brooksville has issued 1,524 citations — not including the 30-day warning period that follows installation of each camera — with more than 580 violations still awaiting review. Nearly 70 percent of the citations have been paid, according to Brooksville police.
Dating to Friday, the city has collected $120,987 in citations minus $17,720 that was paid to ATS. The Police Department projects that — adjusting for changes in the driving habits as motorists become aware of the cameras and the addition of a fifth camera — the program could bring in more than $1 million by March.
With that money, Turner would like to create three positions for a new traffic enforcement team.
Turner said each officer would cost around $43,528 in salary and benefits and then about $220,000 would be spent on a patrol car and equipment for each officer.
Additionally, Turner has plans to create a part-time position for an officer who would review red-light violations and to retain the services a hearing officer who would handle citation appeals. The positions and the related equipment are estimated to cost about $32,000 a year.
That would leave a balance of more than $690,000 a year, according to Turner's figures.
"We'll be saving the taxpayer some money and increasing the safety of the city," Turner said. "It's a win-win situation."
Council member David Pugh liked the idea of having a new traffic unit.
"It looks like it would pay for itself," Pugh said.
And if revenues from the traffic cameras were ever to run low, Turner said he thinks the city would have more than enough in leftover balance to keep the traffic officers on the staff. Some critics of the program have cautioned that a steep decline in tickets could mean layoffs.
"People will never stop running red lights," Turner said. "The numbers might go down. But there will be enough to pay for the officers."
Other familiar critics of the red-light camera program said it wasn't clear that Brooksville had a real need for a traffic unit.
"Traffic levels are down and the fatality and accident rates are down around the country," said Henry Stowe, a Florida member of the National Motorists Association, which has called for a nationwide ban of the cameras. "I question the need for a traffic unit in Brooksville."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6120.
$125 Cost of a red-light ticket.
$40 Amount camera vendor American Traffic Solutions collects (Brooksville keeps the rest).
1,524 Number of citations Brooksville has issued since April (not including the 30-day warning period following camera installation)
$120,987 Amount Brooksville has collected in citations.
$17,720 Amount paid to American Traffic Solutions.
$1M Estimated amount the red-light program could bring in by March