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Red-light cameras by the numbers

Fines could generate millions of dollars

Video from NBC-2

— Naples resident Steve Welty asked a question that concerns many: What constitutes a stop at a red light before making a right turn?

The victim of a red-light camera citation, Welty said he spoke with Lt. Harold Minch, who oversees the Collier County Sheriff’s Office’s traffic unit, as well as county traffic department staffer Gene Calvert.

“I don’t know that stop means for any length of time,” Welty told commissioners. More to the point, he’s not certain cameras are positioned in such a way to tell the difference.

Welty told commissioners that he rides a motorcycle and is less concerned about drivers who are turning right on red lights than drivers who are breezing through red lights at intersections.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve almost been killed by people just going through red lights,” he said.

Scheduled for approval without discussion, an amendment of last year’s Intersection Safety Ordinance was pulled for discussion at Tuesday’s commission meeting by commission Chairwoman Donna Fiala and Commissioner Frank Halas because neither was happy with the proposed fee system.

Under ordinary circumstances, the cost of traffic citations would be a contentious issue. It has been made more-so by the installation of cameras at several intersections. Drivers are getting snagged and mailed citations, mostly for not stopping long enough before making a right turn on a red light.

The legality of the cameras and resulting citations have produced several court challenges. A camera can capture the car but not proof of who is driving the car. An officer asks to see the license of a driver when he or she makes a traffic stop.

Tuesday afternoon, commissioners proposed a reduced three-tiered cost structure of $62.50, $75 and $100. The previous pay amount was $125 for an offense.

Halas asked if the $62.50 would cover the county’s costs of issuing and collecting the fine. Transportation Director Norm Feder said it does.

Fiala thought maybe there should be one fee for prematurely turning right on a red light as opposed to barreling through a red light, crossing traffic.

County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said it is the commission’s ordinance, and they can do whatever they care to do.

Commissioner Tom Henning wanted to completely suspend the ordinance since red light cameras are under legal challenge. He didn’t receive the support he needed. However, Commissioner Fred Coyle asked Klatzkow if the commission needs to address the issue of illegality.

“Is our ordinance, in fact, illegal?” Coyle asked.

Klatzkow said that is an unknown until the Florida Supreme Court rules on the issue. That is, unless the Legislature intercedes first.

Seeing commissioners attempt to reason through the process, residents who had signed up to speak, such as Gina Downs of the Citizens Transportation Coalition, waived their right to speak.

In the end, commissioners bowed to public pressure by reducing the cost of each proposed fine.

“Everyone is saying this is a cash cow and I’m trying desperately to prove it is not,” said Commissioner Jim Coletta.

Coyle said the best way to prove it isn’t a cash cow is for everyone to obey driving rules. That way, the county wouldn’t be able to collect anything.

The amended ordinance becomes law as soon as Klatzkow files it in Tallahassee.

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