Imprudent driving habits shouldn't be the financial backbone for an expanded social services network in Pasco County. But that is one idea being kicked around as an ad hoc group of community leaders prepares to unveil a 10-year plan for combatting homelessness in Pasco County. Mirroring a tactic already used in the city of Port Richey, homeless advocates are lobbying Pasco County to consider installing red light cameras at major intersections.
There is a key difference, however. Instead of civil fines pouring into a general fund with no designated purpose, the suggestion is to use the proceeds to finance programs for the homeless and likely other social services efforts.
Recognizing the need for a broader community care network in Pasco County is laudable, but asking traffic violators to carry the financial burden exclusively is an unfair shift of government costs. And it certainly invalidates the often-repeated rationalization that traffic cameras are about safety, not about money.
"Port Richey was the third Florida city to install red light cameras in May 2008,'' Port Richey police Chief David Brown wrote to the Times in October. "It was not a financial decision then and it is not a financial decision now.''
Nonsense. If it's not about money, why then is Port Richey Mayor Richard Rober suggesting fines from additional red light cameras as the way to better serve the homeless? It is a revenue grab, plain and simple, even if the expected outcome would be a beneficial plan to help the needy.
We don't doubt the need and we commend Rober, Homeless Coalition Chairman Rev. Dan Campbell and others for attempting to tackle the problem. Nearly a year ago, volunteers calculated 4,527 people as homeless in Pasco County, an 11 percent jump over a year earlier, but the same survey counted only 4 percent, or 181 people, as children. It is regarded widely as a statistical error given the number had been put at 1,400 children in the 2008 count and the school district reported assisting almost 1,100 children considered homeless during the first month of the 2009 school year.
The search for new sources of revenue for public services is not unexpected. Pasco County, for instance, plans to seek advertising on its buses to help pay for transit and County Commissioner Ted Schrader has asked the county utility department to begin a program in which water customers can voluntarily round up their monthly payments to the next dollar amount to help raise money for charity.
Those ideas show promise. Relying on the public's poor driving habits to help the homeless is not as encouraging.