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New Port Richey cuts number of red-light cameras, but renews contract for one year

City Manager Debbie Manns wants to tout the cameras’ successes.
City Manager Debbie Manns wants to tout the cameras’ successes.
Published Jun. 16, 2016

NEW PORT RICHEY — In a vote that fell far short of a ringing endorsement, the New Port Richey City Council has opted to keep the city's red-light camera program alive on U.S. 19 for another year.

During a meeting last week, a split council voted 3-2 to renew its contract with American Traffic Solutions. The current contract expires Monday.

The council, however, decided to scale back the program considerably, cutting nearly in half the number of cameras it will continue to use. The council also opted for the one-year contract in lieu of a five-year deal ATS sought.

The council's reasons for slashing the program varied, from statistics showing that the number of drivers who run red lights has been reduced dramatically at some intersections, to criticisms of the program, including poor customer service from ATS; a negative public perception the program gives the city, and an ongoing red-light camera class-action suit against several Florida cities including New Port Richey.

Under the new contract, which city officials say meets the approval of ATS, the company will discontinue operation of four of its nine cameras on U.S. 19 at midnight Monday — southbound at Marine Parkway, southbound at Main Street, and north and southbound at Cross Bayou Boulevard. City staffers selected those intersections after an analysis by the New Port Richey Police Department showed violations had fallen dramatically there.

The council did opt to keep cameras going for a year on U.S. 19 northbound at Trouble Creek Road, northbound at Floramar Terrace, and north and southbound at Gulf Drive. The city will also keep a camera on the westbound lanes of Main Street heading onto U.S. 19.

Police Chief Kim Bogart recommended keeping cameras at those intersections, telling the council that the cameras generate as many as 400 violations a month.

"To just ignore that and just look the other way troubles me a lot," Bogart said.

City Manager Debbie Manns acknowledged that public perception of the program is "poor" and offered up a plan to launch a public information campaign, outlining the cameras' public safety successes.

For Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips, who along with council member Chopper Davis voted against a new contract, negative public perception has been the driver of his longtime opposition to the program.

"I just believe that it's a program that really doesn't help a small city like New Port Richey market itself," he said.

It is estimated the program will provide the city with a windfall of $700,000 this year, as violations have increased with the completion of construction on U.S. 19, which city officials believe brought down red-light citations and revenue in recent years. Revenue from the citations is divided among the city, the state and ATS.

While the remaining three council members voted for the one-year extension, support for keeping the program going longer appears to be dwindling. Mayor Rob Marlowe said he has been "underwhelmed" by ATS's customer service, so he deemed a five-year contract to be a mistake.

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Council member Jeff Starkey expressed concern that, should the pending class-action case go against the municipalities, New Port Richey could be on the hook for paying back money collected from drivers, dating back to the program's inception in 2011. City Attorney Joseph Poblick told the council he believes the city is on solid legal ground, but the "worst-case scenario" is the city could have to pay back an estimated $7 million should a court ruling go against it.

Starkey went on to urge his colleagues not to rely on red-light camera income in crafting budgets down the road.

"This isn't something we need to be dependent on for years to come," he said.