Tampa City Council approves new contract on red-light cameras

Cameras will continue to flag motorists who drive through red lights at key intersections in Tampa, after the City Council today approved the city's contract with their vendor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions on a 6-1 vote. Lisa Montelione was the lone dissenter.

Two weeks ago, the Council voted 4-3 to oppose extending the contract with ATS, with the majority of the board upset that the city's share of the $158 fines incurred by drivers was going into the city's general fund, rather than a pot devoted to making traffic improvements where the cameras were located. But Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a strong supporter of the cameras, directed members of his staff to meet individually with those council members and inform them that he had heard their message, and will now devote 25 percent of the fines the city collects directly to improving the intersections where some of those 51 cameras are placed.

The city collected $1.6 million in revenues from the cameras in 2013. 

The strongest criticism came from Councilwoman Montelione, who questioned why the money will be devoted to intersections where the cameras are located. "My concern is that we have safety concerns all over the city, some at intersections, some at mid-blocks," she said. "I would like to have the money spent where it’s needed, rather than specifically tied to a location where the camera is."

Transportation Secretary Jean Duncan told Montelione that was music to her ears, and she preferred to have more flexibility in spending those dollars.

But that raised the hackles of Councilman Frank Reddick, who said his "yes" vote would be in jeopardy if "flexibility" was going to play a part in how the funds were allocated. City staffers then backed away from Duncan's comment, and emphasized that there would be a separate line-item on their FY2015 budget indicating those funds.

After Council member Mary Mulhern picked up on Montelione's comments later in the discussion, Montelione reiterated her concerns, and said if the priorities were going to be spent on intersections where the cameras were located, then she wanted more cameras in certain parts of Tampa, like Busch and Bruce B. Downs Boulevards.

Interestingly, the council barely noted criticism that came from one member of the public, Matt Florell. Florell has spent  years researching (and opposing) red-light cameras, and was an activist prominent in leading community opposition to them in St. Petersburg, leading Mayor Rick Kriseman and that city council last month to call for not renewing the St. Pete's camera contract. Flores said that the city would lose money this year based on the lowered rate of ticketing violators, and that that "if your city staff had done their due diligence, they would have looked into other ATS contracts in Florida, and they would have noticed that Collier County was getting the same service from the same vendor as Tampa for only $1500/camera/month. That's less than half what Tampa is paying. If Tampa had that rate, there WOULD be profit on this program to spend on other things this year."

But nobody on Council made mention of that remark. Dennis Rogero, Mayor Buckhorn's chief of staff, did say that he could envision a scenario where the city might still use the cameras even if the city began losing money on them.

Council members Mike Suarez and Harry Cohen have been consistent supporters of the program, and maintained that support today. Cohen said it was far from a perfect program, but it was appropriate to continue because of how it addresses public safety.

There was much talk about the unfairness of how the law in place benefits the state more than it does individual cities and/or counties. A proposal by St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes to kill the cameras has hit a roadblock in the Legislature. 

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