ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Town Council voted 3-2 Tuesday in a hurried motion to approve the town’s red light cameras for another three years despite several impassioned pleas from residents …
ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Town Council voted 3-2 Tuesday in a hurried motion to approve the town’s red light cameras for another three years despite several impassioned pleas from residents to do away with them.
The town’s seven cameras at the intersections of Kingsley and Park Avenues, Kingsley and Debarry Avenues and Park Avenue and Loring are safe for another three years.
The town’s contracted red light company, American Traffic Solutions, will continue to evaluate other intersections for more red light cameras in the future.
The decision comes after a special committee reviewed sealed proposals from four separate camera companies. ATS included a three-month credit in its proposal, meaning the higher cost of their contract became negligible when committee members factored lost revenue from camera down time from other companies.
However, while council members evaluated which proposal was a better deal, many citizens in the audience hoped there wouldn’t be a deal at all.
“If you look at it long enough you start to believe the safety benefits are very dubious at best, I drive through here several times a day just about every day, I see several flashes a day and not many accidents,” said audience member Travis Christensen of Lake Asbiry. “I hope you decide to get rid of them.”
The town’s red light cameras were introduced in 2013 on a three-year contract. Last year, they brought in approximately $579,167, while also increasing town expenditures by $327,300. Expenditures do not include the cost to watch the videos captured by the cameras.
The town is also looking at placing more cameras on the east side of Wells Road intersection with Park Avenue, where Police Chief Gary Goble has noticed a high volume of violations.
The town has wrestled with a decision on whether to renew its red light contract since before council adopted its 2016-2017 budget in September. On Sept. 29, the council voted to extend the red light camera contract for 120 days to give the council time to request new bids and evaluate the effect red light cameras have on public safety. Had the cameras not been extended at that time, the cameras were scheduled to “go dark.”
State lawmakers authorized red light cameras in the 2010 Mark Wandall Traffic Safety Act with the intention of improving public safety. Soon, state and local governments began to earn millions more in yearly revenue.
A 2015 legislative analysis found red light cameras net around $128 million in revenue every year. The red-light camera tickets are $158 and the town gets $75 from each ticket.
“Revenue generation becomes compelling for a town of about 9,000 people,” said Thomas Kalil, who spoke at the meeting. “It does kind of remind me of Waldo and those other small towns in that it’s a money grab without really increasing safety.”
Other speakers said the Wandall Act itself elevates video evidence to irrefutable testimony of a civil infraction while disregarding the citizens’ own testimony, which stacks the deck in the state’s favor.
Following public comment, where nearly all speakers opposed the red light cameras, the council appeared open to nixing the contract. Council member Scott Land, the most vocal critic of the cameras, motioned to end the contract and not seek new contracts. The motion failed 1-4.
“I think one of the things we’ve seen is the initial reduction of red light camera violators,” said Goble. “I think it has changed the way people drive.”
Before the program started in April 2013, Goble’s department wrote 1,200 tickets a month. He said now the town writes about 700. He added that policing red light infractions is difficult in the town because of the intense traffic along the town’s main thoroughfares, Park and Kingsley Avenues.
Approximately 75,000 motorists traverse the town per day, drivers who, according to Goble, are safer with the red light cameras in place.
“The easy answer to say get rid of them, they’re a lot of work,” Goble said. “But the honest answer is I think they change the way people drive. I think they drive safer in the Town of Orange Park and I think they are a benefit to the town residents and the Town of Orange Park.”