City forced to refund tickets
Winter Park City Commissioners made their stance clear on red-light cameras Monday as they passed a resolution opposing a state bill that would cut back on camera enforcement.
The bill would modify the state’s current red-light camera program, potentially banning new cameras starting July 1 and cutting the cost of a red-light camera violation nearly in half, dropping it from the current $158 to $83.
The City Commission and staff feared the bill would make the city’s cameras less effective, as well as cause an unnecessary tax burden on residents.
Winter Park would lose $600,000 in revenue from red-light camera violators if the legislation were to pass, City Manager Randy Knight said.
The Winter Park City Commission defended its decision before voting unanimously to oppose the bill.
“We get pinged routinely by people who don’t live in Winter Park that say ‘Wow, you’re just in the business of making money off of us. Shame on you, evil, etc.,’” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “I think intuitively it makes sense that we’re trying to have safety out of this.”
“I think it’s interesting that people say ‘Well, I did run the light, but I don’t think it’s right.’”
But residents from outside the city didn’t waste time in voicing their disapproval with the city’s use of red light cameras, viewing them as unconstitutional.
“The reason there’s legislation modifying the use of red-light cameras is because too many cities like Winter Park abuse the system,” said David Leavitt, a Longwood resident who’s spoken throughout Orange and Seminole counties regarding the cameras. “Citizens are sick and tired of it and this particular legislation is the result.”
The city’s concern about a decrease in revenue exemplifies another reason for the creation of the bill, Leavitt said, accusing the City Commission of abusing the money earned from violations.
Winter Park is currently refunding hundreds of residents for red-light camera citations due to noncompliance with a Florida Department of Transportation mandate. The city failed to extend yellow lights at intersections with red-light cameras by 0.4 seconds by Dec. 31.
Four of the city’s six intersections with red-light cameras were not in compliance.
The yellow lights have been corrected as of Feb. 7, but more than 550 motorists were fined since Jan. 1, said Clarissa Howard, the city’s director of communications.
Winter Park sent refunds to 140 residents by mail last Monday, Howard said.
Controversy on a national scale now involves Phoenix camera vendor Redflex Traffic Systems. Former Redflex salesman Aaron Rosenberg filed a recent lawsuit against his former employer contending that the company provided gifts and bribes to government officials in 13 states – including Florida – to secure new contracts.
The lawsuit did not name any specific municipalities.
Increasing safety remains the main goal of red-light cameras, Bradley said, reminding the City Commission that residents who run red lights are endangering people’s lives.
“These are people that are breaking the laws of our state,” Bradley said.
“I suppose we could enforce it by having a police officer on every intersection, but people would say we’re in a police state.”
The Florida House’s Transportation and Highway Safety Subcommittee passed the camera-restricting bill by a vote of 10-3 last month, moving it further along the legislative pipeline. If signed into law, it would affect all camera fines in the state.