By: Sharon Aron Baron
In August 2013, the City of Tamarac installed over 15 red light cameras and the commission pledged at the time that they would be cost neutral – or basically pay for themselves. Instead the cameras have evolved into their own program requiring more police, legal and personnel costs in order to maintain itself costing the money each year.
When the City of Tamarac signed the initial contract with camera supplier American Traffic Solutions (ATS) back in November of 2012, the mayor and commissioners stressed that they would be installed for safety reasons, and were sold on the fact that they would be cost neutral for the city. As far as safety, residents were never informed in public meetings of the statistics that were used to justify the need for them in the first place, and why wouldn’t simple policing do the job. In fact, ATS, never explained how a red light camera could physically stop a car that was intent on running a red light.
ATS assured the commission that they would even see a decrease in red light runners because drivers would be conditioned to change their behavior based on getting hit in the pocketbook – or from seeing the red light camera warning sign. In 2015, Assistant City Attorney Mike Cirullo said that payment levels to ATS have dropped significantly since the public’s awareness of the cameras, however, each year that they have been installed, driver’s habits have not changed and 2016 financials show revenues increased 23 percent over 2015.
What it Costs the City Run the Red Light Cameras
In 2016 Red light ticket revenue was $1,881,480.89. Out of this revenue the city paid the State of Florida half which left them with $917,198.69. That’s a lot of money, right? Our city could use that to fund some great programs. But wait. Out of this amount, the city has to pay $966,141.99 in expenses to run the red light camera program, plus staff.
So what are the expenses to run the red light camera program?
Staff personal services $15,263.92
Legal Fees $67,678.44
Special Judge Magistrate $1,750.00
BSO Contractual Services $214,133.04
American Traffic Solutions (Cameras and fees) $667,316.59
Total Expenses $966,141.99
2016 loss for running the program: $48,943.30
Now you may not think a loss of this amount isn’t bad. But just think what that money could do for our city – our valuable tax dollars that we are losing which are hardly “cost neutral.” If you or I paid a deficit amount to the IRS in the amount of $48,000 and told them that it was “cost neutral” you’d eventually rack up some heavy interest rates until you paid it off. And this isn’t the first time either. In 2014, Tamarac Talk reported the city had a loss of $37,000 for the program. The bottom line is, there shouldn’t be deficits because the agreement was that these cameras would be cost neutral.
“The word deficit isn’t appropriate in this situation,”said Public Information Officer Elise Boston in 2015 responding to the first reported loss. “The money represents existing staff time allocated to the project.”
Are Our Streets Safer?
In 2015, BSO Captain Neal Glassman brought statistics forward and stated there has been some decrease in crashes and some increase.
“To be honest with you, there were mixed results. Some studies showed a decrease in crashes and some showed an increase which is to be expected because most jurisdictions noticed that people now think they’re going to jam on their brakes and they’re going to cause rear end collisions, so we’ve seen a slight increase since the cameras have been put in. But it’s been such a short period of time, so it really hasn’t been definitive in my opinion.”
Red Light Camera in Front of Emergency Room Entrance
One of the sorest spots for this program has been the installation of a red light camera in front of the emergency room entrance at University Hospital which remains today even after Channel 10 did an investigation.
The camera is targeting people making a left turn into the emergency room entrance – even in the middle of the night when the light should be blinking yellow so people can use due care. This left turn light can take several minutes to change to green and people that turn on it have been shown no mercy to the judge magistrate, even when they produced medical documentation.
Other Cities that Scrapped their Red Light Cameras
The City of Hallandale Beach, Margate, Fort Lauderdale, North Miami Beach and Boca Raton. According to the Sun Sentinel, at its peak, 30 cities had red light cameras. Now only three in Broward County do including Tamarac.