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Tampa officials hope new contract for red light cameras will win over doubters on City Council

TAMPA — Mayor Bob Buckhorn is expected to face an uphill task in getting Tampa City Council members to extend the city's red-light camera program.

To help sweeten the pot, city attorneys have negotiated a new deal with camera provider American Traffic Solutions that should give the city a bigger share of fines paid by motorists who run red lights.

The city uses its share of the $158 fines to cover the cost of the cameras and the cost of ticketing motorists, and keeps any revenue that is left over. The new contract would guarantee the city an extra $75,000 per year regardless of how many citations are issued, officials said.

City Attorney Julia Mandell said she will meet with council members to brief them on the new contract ahead of a vote tentatively scheduled for Sept. 15. Without council approval, the city would be forced to end the program that Buckhorn has championed as an effective safety measure even as other Tampa Bay communities have taken their cameras down.

Ending the program could also cut off a significant revenue source. After a decline in 2014, red-light violations are back on the rise in Tampa, with the city on track to issue 65,000 citations in the 2016 fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. The city's share of that could add up to about $2 million.

The contract also would give the city more protection from lawsuits by requiring American Traffic Solutions to provide more legal representation if the city is taken to court by disgruntled motorists.

The savings in the new contract come from the monthly rates the company charges for cameras. Tampa currently pays between $3,750 and $4,400 a month per camera.

The new contract would lower the highest monthly rate to $4,050. By comparison, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office pays $4,250 per month for each of its 10 cameras.

"I did some research about what other jurisdictions are paying," Mandell said. "This would make us among the lowest in the state."

Tampa has 54 cameras but is not being charged for 11 that are offline because of road construction.

It is unclear if the new contract will sway some council members who have questioned the share paid to the camera company and whether the cameras reduce intersection accidents.

In 2014, council members voted against renewing a contract and only changed their mind when Buckhorn agreed to spend a quarter of the revenue from the program on intersection safety.

But the following year just 41,600 citations were issued. With the state taking an $83 cut of every ticket, that left just $680,000 for the city after it paid the camera company about $2.3 million.

Still, the flat rate contract means the city does better when more motorists are caught.

The increase in violations this year has already seen the city take in $1.2 million after paying $1.5 million in costs to the camera company.

"Despite the fact violations are increasing and the amount of work we'll be asked to perform is increasing, the new contract will actually reduce our fees," said Charles Territo, spokesman for American Traffic Solutions.

Since Tampa began using cameras in 2011, several cities — including St. Petersburg, Kenneth City, Temple Terrace, Oldsmar and Gulfport — have scrapped their programs.

The credibility of the cameras also took a knock from a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study released in January that found that intersection crashes at monitored intersections rose by almost 15 percent after cameras were installed.

The study included eight Tampa intersections, where the number of rear-end crashes rose from 17 to 26 after cameras were installed — a 52 percent increase.

Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said she is unlikely to support a new contract.

"If it really saves lives, I would say okay," Capin said. "City after city has taken them down. There is a reason. They all tried it, and it didn't work."

Contact Christopher O'Donnell at codonnell@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @codonnell_Times.

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