Seeing Red: Update on the Red Light Cameras in our City

 

RedLightCamera2By: Sharon Aron Baron

In August 2013, the City of Tamarac installed over 15 red light cameras.  After one year of operation,  I wanted to find out how they were doing.

When the city of Tamarac signed the contract with American Traffic Solution in November of 2012, the mayor and commissioners stressed that they would be installed for safety reasons, and Commissioner Michelle Gomez assured me that they would be “cost neutral.”

As far as safety, citizens were never were informed of what statistics were used that justified the need for them. In fact, camera supplier American Traffic Solution, never explained how a red light camera could actually stop a car that was intent on running a red light.

One controversial red light was even installed in front of the emergency room entrance at University Hospital and remains today even after Channel 10 did an investigation .

A red light camera remains in front of the hospital emergency room entrance

A red light camera remains in front of the hospital emergency room entrance

In the video, Channel 10 interviewed Jacob Alcahe who was worried he was having a heart attack, so he rushed himself to University Hospital in Tamarac. “I really couldn’t breathe, I was sweating, just a lot of things going on,” said Alcahe.

A few weeks later, Alcahe said he experienced similar symptoms when he received a $158 ticket in the mail. It appears the camera on University Drive at Northwest 72nd Street captured him running the red light at the entrance to the hospital.

To make matters worse, the city’s magistrate refused to dismiss the ticket even after he showed them his discharge papers from the hospital.

Mayor Harry Dressler told Local 10 the city was only trying to keep drivers safe and stands by the magistrate who, to date, has upheld at least two violations issued to emergency room patients.

Oh yes, don’t forget: the City of Tamarac pays for the judge magistrate.

So how are our red light cameras working?

According to Tamarac Public Informati0n Officer Elise Boston, in one year, 8,181 tickets have been issued by the city at a cost of $158 each. Out of that, the number of citations dismissed by the judge magistrate is four out of 39 tickets contested.

Net Revenue to date:
Citation revenue  $504,383.92
Paid to State        ( 264,416.97)
Net Revenue   $239,966.95

$239K in Revenue? Our city should be making money, right?

Not exactly. The city set this all up to be “cost neutral.” In layman’s terms, this means that the city is spending just as much money running the program as they are making from it. However, according to Boston, in a “cost neutral” contract,  payment is made to American Traffic Solutions only in the event that there are dollars remaining once program costs are paid. “The 2012 presentation referred to an anticipated scenario, assuming that ALL of the cameras were installed on day one. That’s not the case. A total of 15 cameras were installed over an 8-month period – less than the 20 projected,” said Boston.

So wait a minute, did we just forfeit being “cost neutral” in our contract because we staggered the installation as well as installed less than the specified amounts of cameras?

Although the city made $239,966.95  revenue from tickets all of these tickets after state fees., the truth is the cameras cost us a whopping $277,637.54 in administrative costs and equipment. This is a difference of $37,670.59.

In what bizarro world is owing $37,000 cost neutral?

If you had a deficit of $37,000 in your bank account, would they tell you that your balance is neutral? Not in this lifetime.

Here is why the red light ticket cameras are costing our city not only money, but staff time.

Personnel Services – City Staff           $ 14,304.64
Legal Services                                      $ 23,367.70
BSO                                                        $178,444.20
Camera payment                                $61,521

Total Expenditures to date           $277,637.54  

According to Boston, “There is a relatively small loss for the program because of the cost of the cameras and program management.”

Wait a minute, I was at that meeting when the Mayor and city commission signed up with ATS and said this wouldn’t cost the city.

Do they consider $37,000 a small loss? I consider $3 a small loss.

The bottom line is, there shouldn’t be any loss because the agreement was that these would be cost neutral. “

“The word deficit isn’t appropriate in this situation. The money represents existing staff time allocated to the project,” said Boston.

Whatever this means.  A $37,000 deficit is a still a deficit no matter what.

Other Cities that Scrapped their Red Light Cams

Collier County canceled their contract with ATS in 2013. Former Florida Highway Patrol Officer Paul Henry, told Collier County commissioners there was no change in the number of crashes before the cameras installed at the intersections and after the cameras were installed at the intersection within a 18-month time period.

The City of Hallandale Beach and most recently the City of Margate have also canceled their contracts.  Hopefully, our next city commission will scrap the contract and call it a day for this new expense to our residents.

About Sharon Aron Baron

Sharon Aron Baron Sharon Aron Baron is the Editor of Talk Media and writer for Tamarac Talk and Coral Springs Talk. Tamarac Talk was created in 2010 to provide News, Views and Entertainment for the residents of Tamarac and to give resident's a forum. We are not affiliated with the City of Tamarac. That's why this site can be occasionally opinionated and obviously open.

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  • Paul_Henry1

    It’s great to see someone do the math on their camera scheme. Since the DOT mandated a very slim 4/10 of a second be added to yellow light times, most scheme users have begun to lose money. What they are using now are “flexible payment” contracts where losses are carried over and at some point written off if not made up with more tickets. Courts in three Florida Counties (Brevard, Broward, and Orange) have ruled this type of contract is illegal.

    If the cameras are truly for safety, then the measure must be in before and after red light violation crashes. No city except Clearwater has ever published this information in an actual number, and theirs went from 3 to 6. Instead, local officials use “fuzzy math” and cite percentages that include crashes that have nothing to do with red light violations.

    Keep up the good work, no government can indefinitely ignore the will of the people. Brooksville is finding that out the hard way. Speaking of which, Collier County was an excellent example of good and bad government. One commissioner tried to prevent me from speaking, and then walked out at the start of my presentation (another left for a few minutes but said she could hear what I said). People like him have no business representing the citizens of a county. Representatives must listen to ALL evidence before making a decision. The three that DID listen to the entire presentation voted to do away with the camera scheme. They instead adjusted yellow and all-red timing and now almost 2 years later have a crash rate lower than Tallahassee, which uses 19 red light cameras for a population of about 60K fewer people.

  • Fed up citizen

    If I would make a bad financial decision working with a private company, I would be fire or demoted. Why is it the government officials always get away with bad results, tax money losses and so forth? They should be liable for their incompetence. People of Tamarac, lets get these incompetent politicians fire, using our power: “ELECTION TIME IS COMING” Whoever doesn’t vote, losses the right to complain.

  • Steve

    Perhaps this information needs to be supplied to channel 10 for a follow up story. Also, it should be a question asked of each candidate in the upcoming election.

    • Mike Gelin Candidate for Mayor

      I am and always have been against red light cameras. Tamarac officials took it on while the Florida Legislature was considering making it illegal statewide.

      • David

        I’ll vote for anyone against the scameras. We need to get rid of it in front of the hospital and all over this city. Does Webster or Gomez support the cameras?

        • commenter8

          Gomez supports the cameras. Dressler was the one who proposed the cameras, and Gomez seconded his proposal. Dressler and Gomez are the father and mother of red light cameras in Tamarac. Mike Gelin strongly opposes red light cameras. Webster won’t even say what his position is.

  • commenter8

    Stewart- your comment above is a good start, but on your website you have a page detailing your vision for Tamarac and it says nothing about red light cameras. You might remember the Tamarac Talk poll about a year ago which showed red light cameras were the top concern… why doesn’t your vision include eradicating them immediately?

    Paul – awesome comment!! Thanks for speaking truth to power!!

    Sharon – you are Tamarac’s best journalist!! Great investigative report!!

    • Stewart Webster

      commenter8, you are right. As I am sure you know, the courts have just ruled against the issue in Broward & WPB – taking the position that I would. As YOUR Commissioner, I will move to address it locally.

      Also, I must address and commit to another very painful situation. Some days ago, a Veteran was inadvertently killed trying to cross Commercial Boulevard. Having personally known and been mentored by Bill Kling, I am aware of his more than 10 year effort to get that Veterans Health Center established. Through my contacts in Washington, Tallahassee, Broward County and locally, from day one, I’m committed to make the process and the area safe and easy for all who need to access those facilities.

      • commenter8

        Stewart, that ruling only says that the city tried to delegate too much responsibility to the RLC company. If the city fixes its procedures, then the RLC usage can continue. The ruling is here:

        http://archive.wtsp.com/assetpool/documents/141015030505_Noah1.pdf

        So your position is that the Red Light cameras can continue as long as the city fixes its RLC ticket issuing process?

        • Stewart Webster

          commenter8: Thank you for the link. I’ll explore.

          As for my “position”, elect me AND THEN we can have a substantive conversation. [You have a pseudonym and I do not. :-)]

          Thank you for making input into our community/city happenings. We need more observers/commenters like you.

          • Ian Birmingham

            Mr. Webster, perhaps you aren’t ready for public office. As a candidate, you are putting yourself into the public spotlight as a public figure and you are asking people to vote for you. Common sense should tell you that you actually have to say what your positions are on the issues that are important to voters in that election, and as noted above red light cameras were the top Tamarac concern in the TamaracTalk.com survey.

            By evading the question, you very clearly say to the people of Tamarac that you don’t think they deserve a choice in this election on the issue they say is most important to them. As such, you certainly don’t deserve my vote or anyone else’s.

          • Stewart Webster

            Mr. Birmingham, thank you for your comments. While I have absolutely no intention of debating you on a posting, anyone who knows me, my work ethic, studied diplomacy, qualifications and more than 30 years of public & private sector experience – nationally & internationally – at the highest levels – will disagree with you. I will let any ONE of these stand against your comment without me saying a word. Be well.