The city of Brooksville decided it didn't want to be the city of Waldo. A City Council majority, suspicious a red-light camera program provided out-of-focus safety data, voted last week to kill the effort, two years after it had begun. It was the appropriate decision considering both local merchants and out-of-city residents highlighted the cameras as a detriment to commerce by discouraging visitors to Brooksville.
Some even compared the situation to Waldo, the tiny city along U.S. 301 in Alachua County, which gained such notoriety as a ticket-writing speed trap that the American Automobile Association refuses to route motorists through the area.
"It's bad for your retailers and obviously a scam to make up for lost property taxes," said Jennifer Sullivan of Spring Hill, who acknowledged getting a ticket.
Council members had to make their decision after being presented a snapshot of conflicting data including statements the city has 109 businesses for sale or rent, while Mayor Lara Bradburn countered that 68 new businesses had opened, creating more than 250 jobs.
Likewise, some members were dubious of the safety proclamations including statistics from Chief George Turner that showed a 35 percent drop in accidents at the four intersections covered by the cameras. The number of rear-end collisions at the intersections, however, indicated driver distraction, following too closely or other circumstances contributed to a public safety threat beyond just red-light running.
But, more to the point, the political grief and potential for a tarnished city image were no longer worth absorbing because a new state law made the financial rewards to the city inconsequential. The law, effective July 1, eliminates the right-on-red violation, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the city's tickets. The new law also dictated $83 from each $158 fine be sent to Tallahassee.
The fallout is significant. Over a six-month period ending in April, the city calculated its net at $465,000 after paying its camera vendor. However, more than 60 percent of the nearly 5,500 tickets were for making a rolling right-hand turn without stopping. If those trends continued, council member Richard Lewis calculated the city would receive only $109,000 annually and still have to pay overhead costs for a police officer to review the citations.
With 97 percent of the tickets issued to non-city residents, council members Lewis, Joe Bernardini and Frankie Burnett said the cameras were counterproductive to economic development.
It's hard to argue with their logic particularly since the program has evolved into a cash grab by the Legislature. Traffic cameras should be about safety foremost and with the data measuring their effectiveness in dispute, the city was right to take them down.