Brent Batten: Cameras don’t operate in the red

BRENT BATTEN

10 things to know about red light cameras

Play the red-light running camera game

Can you guess which citation will be ...

By slashing in half the fine for being caught by a red-light camera, Collier County commissioners last week attempted settle a lingering question: is the program about safety or revenue.

But that and other questions about the controversial program, which began fining drivers in June, persist.

Here is an attempt to answer some of them:

Q: The law says I have to stop before making a right turn on red. How long does the stop need to be?

A: The law sets no minimum time for a stop, says Lt. Harold Minch of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Once your wheels cease to move, you’ve stopped. You’re then free to proceed with caution at intersections where a right turn on red is not otherwise prohibited.

Q. How could commissioners reduce the fine for a red-light violation from a flat $125 to $62.50 for first-time violators, $75 for second-time violators and $100 for third-time violators without the approval of the company that supplies and monitors the red-light cameras?

A: The company, American Traffic Solutions, of Phoenix, Ariz., will get the same amount of money from each case under the new schedule as it did under the old one. The company gets $47.50 of the first 89 paid tickets at a given intersection in a month and a decreasing share of additional ticket revenue. Revenue to the county will drop significantly under the new schedule. Under the old plan, the county received $77.50 from each of the first 89 tickets at an intersection in a month. Now, assuming tickets are written to first-time offenders, it will receive just $15.

Q: How much has the county made off the program so far?

A: Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock says as of Oct. 13, checks totaling more than $329,000 had been deposited in the county account from the red-light camera program. The vendor, ATS, will have to be paid from that amount, he noted. That could take up to about a third of the total.

Q: Who pays the salary of the special magistrate who hears contested red-light camera cases?

A: Explains Collier County spokesman John Torre, “The special magistrate, Brenda Garretson, is under contract with the county for special magistrate services for code enforcement. Her hourly rate is $175. She is paid on a monthly basis for actual hours worked times the rate.” In other words, Garretson’s fee is paid by the county whether she finds a defendant guilty or not guilty.

Q: I just received a ticket in the mail, but haven’t paid it yet. Should I send in $125, or $62.50?

A: The new fine structure didn’t take effect until the ordinance was registered with the state, which happened Wednesday. Violations that occurred while the old law was in place will carry the fine associated with it, $125. Only offenses committed after the effective date will carry the lower fine.

Q: There was talk about refunding money to people who paid the old, higher fine. Is that going to happen?

A: As it stands, no. County commissioners cited the complexity and cost of tracking down those who paid. However, Clerk of Courts Brock said if the county would give him a list of those who’ve paid -- checks are made payable to the Board of County Commissioners -- and if he can make that list interface with his computer system, it would be a simple process to print and mail checks. He estimated the cost under that scenario at about $2,000.

Q: What happens to my money when I pay the fine?

A: It goes to the county’s general fund. Conversely, fines from traffic tickets written by a deputy on the spot are paid to the clerk of courts, who keeps 10 percent to help operate his office and sends the rest to Tallahassee, where it is used for a variety of functions, including state prosecutors, public defenders and trauma centers. The direct link to the general fund gives rise to complaints that red light cameras are simply a revenue generator for the county. County Commissioner Jim Coletta says he hopes Tuesday’s reductions end those complaints. “Everyone is saying this is a cash cow and I’m trying desperately to prove it’s not,” he said.

Still, with close to a quarter-million dollars to show in less than five months of operation, the perception is going to be difficult to overcome. “You hear talk about this not being a revenue scheme. It’s certainly generating a lot of revenue, whatever it is,” Brock said.

Connect with Brent Batten at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten/

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features