RED LIGHT CAMERAS
More than 55,000 drivers have received red-light running citations since Collier County installed red-light cameras in 2009.
But the Arizona company that installed the cameras and manages Collier's red-light camera program hasn't been paid since August 2010 because some county officials contended its contract didn't comply with a state law that went into effect that July.
After months of negotiations, county officials and American Traffic Solutions, the camera vendor, have reached a settlement and agreement on a new contract scheduled to go before Collier commissioners for approval Tuesday.
However, at least one commissioner who had previously supported the cameras now says he is leaning toward nixing them because he called the reduction of crashes from 125 in 2009 to 112 the next year "negligible."
"Do you really want to maintain a program that can't show a real positive benefit?" Commissioner Jim Coletta asked, adding that he was going to vote against it "unless someone can convince me."
In April 2009, the county and ATS began installing 19 cameras at a dozen Collier intersections, at no cost to the county. A year later, the Florida Legislature legalized the use of cameras on state roads, but prohibited municipalities from paying vendors on a per-citation basis — prompting Collier to amend its contract.
Instead of the county paying ATS to operate the program, the new contract called for ATS to pay the county $8,250 monthly for the right to operate the program — just enough to cover the county's administrative costs.
Under the contract, ATS and the state split the $158 fine and ATS received $75 per citation. But there still were problems.
"We just couldn't pay them, in our opinion, because the underlying structure of the contract was still at a per-citation amount, contrary to the act," said Crystal Kinzel, director of finance and accounting for the Collier County Clerk of Courts.
On Tuesday, commissioners are slated to consider a settlement and release agreement that will pay ATS $522,545 for money owed, while releasing the county from its amended contract. It also allows the county to move forward under a new 10-year agreement that complies with the law, paying ATS $28,500 monthly, based on traffic counts; it was the only vendor that submitted a proposal last year.
"The settlement agreement is based on a per-approach basis, not per citation issued," Kinzel said, calling settlement negotiations non-adversarial. "A per-approach basis was a way other counties had done it."
After a year, if the average number of citations exceeds 1,500 monthly for two consecutive months, ATS can ask to renegotiate. An average of 1,720 citations monthly were issued in 2010, decreasing to 827 monthly last year due to the amendment and the cameras' deterrent effect, according to ATS.
County Commissioner Tom Henning, who has always voted against the cameras, credited Collier Clerk of Courts Dwight Brock for properly managing the contract.
"That's what the clerk is for," Henning said. "This is a cleanup to make it lawful and contractual."
ATS Spokesman Charles Territo said ATS never threatened a lawsuit and hoped commissioners would approve the settlement. "We're pleased that we could reach an agreement with Collier County," Territo said.
Across the country and Florida, red-light cameras have prompted controversy.
Critics cite studies that show the cameras increase rear-end crashes and injuries as drivers try to stop abruptly at intersections. However, a 2011 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study compared large cities with red-light cameras to those without and determined they reduced the fatal red-light running crash rate by 24 percent and all types of fatal crashes at traffic light intersections by 17 percent.
Nationally, about 700 municipalities in roughly 30 states use cameras. Lee County officials opted against them after a test.
ATS says safety-light camera programs are tailored to deter red-light runners and that happened in Collier.
"Ninety-six percent of the vehicles have received only one ticket," ATS' Territo said, adding that the three cars that racked up the most citations were a gold Volvo S40 and a Mazda 3, with nine each, and a red Chevy Impala with 10 citations.
Northbound drivers at Collier Boulevard and Golden Gate Parkway from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily racked up the most citations, 2,200 since July 2010, ATS figures show. Motorists driving east on Immokalee and Livingston roads at 11 p.m. Fridays followed, with 1,400 during that same period, and more than 1,000 red-light runners were nabbed at 2 p.m. Thursdays as they headed northbound on Airport-Pulling and Radio roads.