1. Pasco

New Port Richey keeps its red-light cameras — and the revenue they bring in

NEW PORT RICHEY — Citing continued safety concerns for motorists on U.S. 19, the New Port Richey City Council will remain in the red-light camera business for three more years.

During a meeting Tuesday, the council unanimously approved a new three-year contract with Terra Mobility, formerly known as American Traffic Solutions, to continue to operate five cameras in the city at a cost of $20,000 a month.

The cameras are on U.S. 19 northbound at Trouble Creek Road, northbound at Floramar Terrace, northbound and southbound at Gulf Drive, and on the westbound lanes of Main Street at U.S. 19. The new contract costs the city $4,000 per camera each month, down from $4,250, for a total savings of $45,000 over three years, City Manager Debbie Manns said.

The cameras continue to be a successful public safety program run by the city on a roadway that remains very dangerous, Manns told the council. There have been no fatalities or rear-end crashes at the intersections where there are red-light cameras, she said, and the recidivism rate for violators getting a second ticket is only 4 percent. The renewal is supported by New Port Richey Police Chief Kim Bogart, who wrote in a memo that crash rates on U.S. 19 remain high, as does red-light running at the camera intersections, with more than 46,000 notices of violations issued over the past three years.

"In 2018 alone, our police officers investigated 187 crashes along our stretch of U.S. 19. Many of those crashes resulted in extensive property damage and physical injuries. Five crashes resulted in deaths," Bogart wrote.

The city's red-light camera program has been controversial, with the council nearly ending the program in recent years. Some cited negative public perception of the cameras being merely a revenue stream cloaked as a public safety effort. The city reduced the number of cameras from nine to five amid a 3-2 split vote in 2016.

Red-light cameras continue to be a significant revenue stream for the city, generating $694,444 during the 2017-18 fiscal year, and $306,007 through March of this year, city documents show.

The program still garnered some criticism on Tuesday, with Council member Peter Altman initially saying he would vote against the renewal, citing concerns over the camera at U.S. 19 and Main Street, which monitors a right-turn lane from Main onto U.S. 19.

Altman said the intersection is confusing to motorists who are getting violations for slowly "rolling" through the right turn with no on-coming traffic in sight. He suggested investigating with the Florida Department of Transportation the possibility of adding an arrow there to govern when motorists can make the right turn. Altman ended up voting for the program after hearing from his colleagues.

City Council member Chopper Davis, who once voted against the cameras, said that while he still gets complaints about the cameras, they come only from people who have gotten tickets. Altman said he was swayed by Mayor Rob Marlowe's recollection of being hit years ago by a red-light runner who took off after the crash.

"I just wish there had been a camera at the intersection I got hit at because it would have caught the person that hit me and kept on going," Marlowe said.