Red light cameras up for renewal at Tampa City Council

TAMPA — The City Council considers today whether to renew Tampa’s contract for its red-light camera system for another two years.

Police and Mayor Bob Buckhorn say crashes at intersections with red light cameras have fallen since city launched the system in the fall of 2011. The number of camera-generated citations also is down — evidence, they say, that the cameras have led drivers to exercise more caution.

Critics attack the camera program as a money-making ploy. The three council members who voted against the cameras two years ago say they still would prefer than revenues from the cameras be earmarked for intersection and transportation improvements, not general spending.

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“If we have dangerous intersections, then we need to spend the money that we generate” at those intersections, said Yvonne Yolie Capin, who voted against creating the camera program along with council chairman Charlie Miranda and Frank Reddick.

Tampa has 51 cameras deplyed at 21 intersections. Tickets go to the owner of the vehicle that ran the light. The fines are $158, of which $75 goes to the city and $83 to the state. The city pays American Traffic Solutions of Tempe, Ariz., to run the program out of its share of the fines. If revenues fail to cover operating costs, city officials say ATS will absorb the shortfall.

While the number of citations issued and total amount of fines collected have fallen,even while more cameras have been added, the city’s net revenue from the camera program last year was $1.64 million.

With a yes vote today, Tampa would renew its contract with ATS to April 2016.

Tampa’s renewal would come in contrast to St. Petersburg, where the council recently voted 6-2 to kill its red light camera program by Sept. 30. In St. Petersburg, the number of crashes rose 10 percent during the program’s first year at the 10 intersections with the cameras.

That’s not Tampa’s experience, police say.

In the first year, crashes dropped almost 11 percent at the first 14 intersections to get the cameras, according to police statistics. The second year, crash totals at those intersections dropped another 33 percent.

The council’s meeting starts at 9 a.m., though the discussion on the camera contract is not set for a particular time.

In an unrelated vote, the council is scheduled to consider paying $1 million for a former warehouse on E Hanna Avenue.

The 11-acre paved site is at 2515 E Hanna Ave., about two blocks east of N 22nd Street. The property, formerly used by Electric Machinery Enterprises, is owned by Hanna Properties Corp., whose president is Jaime Jurado of Tampa.

The city plans to use the property, which is above the flood plain, to store files and other materials that various departments now have stored in space the city leases elsewhere, said Bob McDonaugh, the city’s economic opportunity administrator. The city commissioned two appraisals, which put the property’s value at $1.3 million and $1.4 million, respectively.

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, Danielson@tampabay.com or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.