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Tampa council reverses vote; city to keep red-light cameras into 2016

Published Apr. 4, 2014

TAMPA — The City Council Thursday gave new life to Tampa's red-light cameras, voting 6-1 to continue the program for two years.

The extension reversed a 4-3 council vote two weeks ago against renewing the city's contract with camera supplier American Traffic Solutions of Tempe, Ariz.

Tampa has 51 cameras focused on 21 different intersections to catch red-light runners, and police say their use has raised driver awareness, reducing crashes and red-light violations.

The council didn't dispute those benefits before taking their first vote on March 20. But Charlie Miranda, Yvonne Yolie Capin, Mary Mulhern and Frank Reddick voted no after saying part of the revenue from red-light citations should be spent on traffic safety improvements near those intersections.

This week, Mayor Bob Buckhorn agreed to do just that. One-fourth of camera revenue, which netted the city $1.6 million last year, will go toward such projects.

"We have spent a great deal of time talking to council members, trying to find a compromise," Buckhorn said afterward. "It is our belief, and has been from day one, that these red-light cameras are changing behavior, and our families in this community — my family, your families — are safer as a result. ... These cameras work."

Council member Lisa Montelione, who previously voted for the cameras with none of the money going toward traffic safety projects, on Thursday changed her vote to oppose the renewal. She said the council's agreement with the mayor steers the use of the revenues to camera-monitored intersections, but not necessarily to the places where they could do the most good.

In the program's 2½ years, the city has more than doubled the number of cameras, but the number of citations issued and the amount of fines collected generally are trending down.

Once a police officer has verified a violation captured on camera, the program sends tickets to the owner of the vehicle photographed running a light.

The city gets $75 of the $158 fine, with $83 going to the state.

The city pays American Traffic Solutions to run the program out of its share of the fines.

If revenues fail to cover operating costs, city officials say ATS would cover the shortfall.

On March 6, the St. Petersburg City Council voted 6-2 to kill its red-light camera program by Sept. 30.

There, crashes rose 10 percent during the program's first year at 10 camera-monitored intersections.

By contrast, Tampa police say crashes dropped at the first set of intersections to get the cameras by nearly 11 percent in the first year and another 33 percent the second year.

But red-light camera opponent Matt Florrell of St. Petersburg told the council Thursday he doesn't trust the police statistics.

Florell, who reviewed nearly 30 studies on the cameras before St. Petersburg launched its system in 2010, contended that Tampa's statistics leave out many rear-end crashes and that the city's contract is only cost-neutral when it comes to ATS' costs, not what the city must pay officers to review the images and its clerical staff.

Florell predicted that as a result of adding four-tenths of a second to yellow lights — something the state is requiring to give aging drivers more time to respond to caution lights — the city will not make any money from red-light cameras.

Incentives offered

In other business, the council approved more than $100,000 in cash incentives to two companies considering corporate expansions in Tampa.

Both companies' names are being kept secret under a business-recruitment exemption to Florida's public records law, but outlines of the deals provided to the council say:

• The city would provide up to $70,200 to a health-plan provider that has its headquarters outside the state, but is looking to expand five locations either inside Florida or at other locations in Missouri. At stake are 130 jobs with an average wage of $51,500. The company expects to spend $825,000 on facilities to house the new employees, to make a decision by May 1 and to create the jobs by Dec. 31. The state would contribute another $312,000.

• The city would provide $30,000, with another $30,000 coming from Hillsborough County and $240,000 from the state, for the second project, a shared-services center for a law firm with global operations. The firm expects the expansion to create 100 jobs by 2017, with an average annual salary of at least $48,813. The preferred site is in the city and would bring an estimated $1 million in capital investment. Florida is competing with North Carolina.

Miranda re-elected council chairman

At the start of their meeting, council members re-elected Miranda as chairman, Harry Cohen as vice chairman and Reddick as the chairman of the council when it sits as the Community Redevelopment Agency.

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