Cities to cover court costs
The way tickets received from red light cameras in Winter Park and Maitland are prosecuted and tried may be changing following two new funding plan agreements facing both cities.
Following financial pressure from both the court system and internal police department funding, the cities face decisions regarding how they’ll fund two primary elements of red light camera enforcement: who defends the cities in contested cases, and who’s on the other side trying them.
On Monday, Dec. 10, the Maitland City Council voted in unanimous approval of providing funding to the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court of up to $18,000 over nine months in order for the court to hire additional staff to hear cases of red light camera violations. Without the additional funding from Maitland, and five other agencies including Winter Park, Chief Judge Belvin Perry and County Court Chief Judge Carolyn Freeman said in a meeting Nov. 30 they may be unable to staff red light hearings in time for them to comply with speedy trial laws. And without trials, fines could go unpaid without penalty.
Maitland Police Chief Doug Ball said the ultimatum follows budget cuts in the courts, and traffic offenses falling low on the list priorities for court staff employees.
“They don’t have the budget to keep up with the case load,” he said.
Maitland approved the proposal of supplying up to $2,000 a month for the rest of the fiscal year for the courts to hire staff to cover the red light camera hearings, pending the other cities’ approval of their fair-share contributions ranging in amount based on the average number of cases they send to the courts monthly. Winter Park will likely vote on its proposed contribution in January.
“Eventually everyone would find out that if you don’t pay you won’t be fined, and it becomes a paper target,” Councilman Jeff Flowers said. He also said the city needs to look at the financial figures of how much money Maitland is garnering from red light ticket fines, versus how much they’d be paying in to prosecute them.
Chief Doug Ball said red light cameras brought in $1.2 million in the city last year, with Maitland netting roughly around $700,000 after paying vendor costs. Participating in this agreement, pending all participating cities’ approval, will cost the city no more than $18,000 this fiscal year. That, coupled with the safety the cameras are said to bring to city roads, led to the unanimous approval.
Dual-staff attorney for public safety cases
On Monday, the Maitland City Council also approved proposing the idea of an interlocal agreement with the city of Winter Park to hire a shared staff attorney to represent both cities in public safety court hearings.
The attorney, whose budgeted $80,000 salary is proposed to be split evenly between the two cities, would represent both Winter Park and Maitland in court cases regarding red light cameras, code violations, forfeiture of seized property, and serve as a general counsel for the departments.
Chief Ball said the police department proposed the idea for the possible cost savings it could provide the city, which spent $129,678 in legal expenses stemming from law enforcement matters in the fiscal year of 2012. Currently the funds pay for City Attorney Cliff Shepard’s firm to oversee these matters. Ball said having the joint-staff attorney would cut costs to an estimated $35,700 a year, saving the city roughly $75,000 to be added to the general fund.
“If I’m going to speak at my own funeral, I might as well say something nice. This is a cost savings….budgetarily it makes sense,” Shepard said.
The council voted unanimously to approve drafting the proposed agreement, which will likely be presented to Winter Park next month.