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Tampa City Council approves red light cameras for two more years

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Red light cameras will continue to operate in the City of Tampa for at least two more years, after the city council voted 4-3 Thursday to approve a contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

The new contract guarantees the city $75,000 more per year annually than the current contract, as well as giving the city more help when disgruntled motorists challenge their $158 tickets in court.

Council members Mike Suarez, Harry Cohen, Lisa Montelione and Charlie Miranda voted for the cameras. Guido Maniscalco, Yolie Capin, and Frank Reddick voted no.

The use of red light cameras has been extremely controversial over the years in Florida; and local governments in St. Petersburg, Kenneth City, Temple Terrace, Oldsmar, and Gulfport have all voted to remove them.

However, several council members said in advance of the vote they rarely heard much dissent from the public in Tampa.

The new deal will guarantee the city $2 million in revenue over the next year, said Jason Norton, vice president of account management and business development with ATS.

While the majority of council members telegraphed relatively early in the debate how they were going to vote, the swing vote appeared to center around Miranda and Montelione.

Miranda was a swing vote in 2011 when the contract first came before the council, and he was able to negotiate that a quarter of the revenues going to the city would be used for improvements at certain intersections.

No one was more critical of the cameras than Reddick, who never could uncover how much money had been expended by the city’s legal and police departments to work strictly on red light cameras over the past five years. A TPD official said in the last fiscal year, 3,314 hours were expended on the cameras (not including court time or some administrative time). In 2015, more than 1,800 hours were expended to review the violations cited and to send those citations out to motorists.

“If anyone thinks this is not about dollars and cents, they’re blind,” said Reddick, who said he originally supported the cameras, but not after he was busted himself a month and a half ago. “I’ve determined that this is nothing more than a fraud more than anything else,” he said.

“I think it’s time that we follow the lead of what other cities have done and not renew this contract,” Reddick added, deriding it as a “cash cow for the city and a cash cow for the vendor.”

“I don’t see the true benefit of it,” agreed Maniscalco, who was voting on the cameras for the first time during his tenure on the council.

Some council members appeared surprised city officials didn’t have statistics available on recent crash statistics, though city attorney Julia Mandell said they had been updated twice already this year.

The council’s approval is a win for Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who has championed the cameras since his election in 2011. That the administration didn’t have the latest statistics rankled Capin. “The fact that they don’t have the latest numbers to hold up their argument, is astounding, in my estimation,” she said.

Councilman Cohen said he didn’t have a problem with the cameras. “If you don’t want to get the ticket, you should slow down and make more of an effort when the light turns yellow,” he said.

Matt Florell, the proprietor of St. Pete Polls, is a virulent critic of the cameras. Reading from a Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles study from January, he said there has been an increase in intersection crashes and rear-end crashes because of the cameras.

The city uses 54 cameras at 21 different intersections, though only 18 are operating currently.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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