By: 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.
In the video, Channel 10 interviewed Jacob Alcahe, who was worried he had 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
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 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 an 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.