Red light fines could soar
Winter Park City Commissioners came within a single roll call vote of doubling the fee residents must pay to challenge red light camera citations during last Monday’s Commission meeting.
A transportation bill signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month has left municipalities in charge of hearing appeals for red light camera citations as of July 1, leaving cities on their own to determine a city hearing process. Up until that date, anyone who wanted to appeal their citation went to court and paid a fee of $137. Residents who proved they were not in violation were exempt from both the court fee and the $158 citation fine.
Commissioners said they were shocked when they were asked to approve an increase of that fee of $250 to pay for the administrative costs of the new red light camera hearing system – nearly double the cost of the previous fee.
“When I saw we were going to charge a $250 fee to collect $158, I actually was very troubled by that,” said Mayor Ken Bradley shortly after pulling the item from the consent agenda for discussion.
The city was asked to set the fee before determining plans for its yet-to-be-drafted public hearing system, which Mayor Bradley pointed out seemed like a backward order of operations.
But after debate, the City Commission chose to keep the fee at $137, and requested a six-month evaluation of the process and its costs to see if the fee needed to increase.
Commissioner Carolyn Cooper believed that a higher fee to contest a citation would create even further animosity toward the red light cameras since they were first introduced to the city in 2011.
“There was a lot of opposition to red light cameras and the legislature,” Cooper said. “I don’t want to build that fire to have more opposition.”
Winter Park Police records over the past three months show that in Winter Park there’s between 1,400 and 1,600 red light violations each month. Records also show that between 15 and 20 percent of violators in Winter Park contest their citations.
These numbers raise questions about how helpful the cameras are to begin with, Bradley said.
“Red light running, to me, is a safety issue,” Bradley said. “Are we safer because of these red light cameras? That’s one thing that we need to look at.”
“People have accused me ‘well you’re just doing this to make money for the city.’ Not at all. This is not the process that we’re using to make money, this is the process that we’re trying to use to enforce our laws and to make it a safer driving environment.”
The new city hearing system raised concerns, but the change from court hearings to city hearings could make it easier for residents to appeal a citation, Winter Park Police Chief Brett Railey said.
“I feel that the hearing process will be much less intimidating for a violator should they desire to contest a violation,” Railey said.
“The hearing process is less formal than the process in place until July 1 of this year and as such, less difficult for a violator to navigate through the system.”
Railey noted during the meeting that a hearing system through the city would mean that citations would not go on the license of a violator, keeping insurance costs down in the long-term.
As for the costs of the new hearing system, the six-month evaluation will have to wait until September when the first red light camera citation hearing takes place, Railey said.
“I think there’s another principle at play, and that is our citizens have a right be heard in ‘court,’” Bradley said.
“If we charge that price so much, I think that we haven’t just taxed without representation, we’ve fined without representation, which frankly is even more problematic to me.”
City Commissioners will work to establish the hearing process for the red light camera appeals during the upcoming Commission meeting on July 22.