TAMPA — The Tampa City Council gave a green light Thursday to keeping red-light cameras at dozens of city intersections for another two years.
Council members voted 6-1 to renew the city’s contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, but only after Mayor Bob Buckhorn promised to put 25 percent of the city’s take from the cameras into street improvements.
Councilwoman Lisa Montelione, who supported extending the contract last month, cast the lone dissenting vote on Thursday.
Montelione said the ticket revenue should be spent wherever it’s needed, not just at the intersections that generate it.
Soon after the vote, Buckhorn held a news conference to thank the council for its decision.
“It is our belief and has been from day one that these red light cameras are changing behavior,” Buckhorn said. “And our families in this community – my family, your families – are safer as a result of it.”
The city now has 51 cameras stationed at intersections across the city, including several on Hillsborough Avenue, Dale Mabry Highway and Kennedy Boulevard. The cameras photograph drivers who run red lights. A Tampa Police Department officer reviews the photos to determine if the vehicle owner should get a $158 civil citation.
Revenue from the cameras is split among the city, American Traffic Solutions and the state, which gets the majority of the money.
American Traffic Solutions gets $3,750 a month per camera to manage the system, a cost that’s significantly higher than many other cities in Florida. Buckhorn defended paying that much, which was set when the contract was signed in 2011.
“We got the best deal that we could get at the time,” he said. “We were one of the first ones out of the box.”
The city’s income from the camera program amounted to $1.6 million for the current budget year. Projections for 2015 show revenue rising to $1.8 million because the city added cameras to the system last year. The city’s red-light money goes into the city’s general fund, which pays for day-to-day operation.
That fact prompted four council members to throw a wrench into the contract renewal process last month by voting against the extension. At the time council members said they wanted to see some of the money put into road improvements.
Dennis Rogero, Buckhorn’s chief of staff, reiterated the mayor’s pledge Thursday morning. Rogero said the city has the option of amending the current budget to move $400,000 into the transportation budget for the remainder of the current budget or to wait until the 2015 budget takes effect Oct. 1.
Buckhorn, who must request a budget amendment to change the current budget, demurred when asked if he’ll be doing that.
“I’m comfortable either way,” he said, adding that he plans to discuss the options with Council Chairman Charlie Miranda.
Miranda would not say whether he supports changing the current budget. If it is changed, the red-light revenue should be pro-rated, he said.
During the council meeting, Councilwoman Mary Mulhern asked for a pledge that the city won’t swap the red-light money for other funding already in place.
“We need to be assured this is going to be an increase in spending,” Mulhern said.
The city’s transportation department gets most of its money from state and federal funding. It has about $8 million budgeted for improvements in or near the intersections with cameras, said Jean Duncan, the city’s transportation manager.
“The cameras are another layer of safety,” Duncan said.
Montelione demanded that the money be spent where it’s needed – not just at the intersections that generate it. Cameras already improve safety at the intersections where they’re placed, she said.
Meantime, many other streets have dangerous conditions that need changing, she said.
“We should spend money based on priorities,” she said. “We should spend money based on where need is. We should not spend money on a location because that’s where a camera is. If we are only going to increase spending based on where these cameras are, I want more cameras.”
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