Council nixes red light camera, funds new patrol officer

By Jesse Hollett
Posted 9/15/16

ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Town Council slammed the breaks on their proposition to use red light cameras to pay for a new patrol officer.

After over-estimating costs for employee health …

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Council nixes red light camera, funds new patrol officer

Posted

ORANGE PARK – The Orange Park Town Council slammed the breaks on their proposition to use red light cameras to pay for a new patrol officer.

After over-estimating costs for employee health insurance, on a 3-2 vote, council decided to take those left over funds and use them to pay for a new police officer.

The council allocated funds from overshot employee health insurance costs to not renew the much debated red light camera contract at a Sept. 6 public budget hearing.

The red light cameras at the intersection of Kingsley Avenue and U.S. Highway 17, Kingsley Avenue and Debarry Avenue and U.S. Highway 17 and Loring could disappear after the current contract expires on Sept. 18. However, council voted to extend the current contract until Sept. 30, knowing the cameras – and the revenue they generate – are not plugged into the current draft budget. Council will vote Sept. 20 on a final budget and will decide then to take down the cameras or negotiate with another camera provider.

The cameras brought in approximately $579,167 in revenue last year.

Although employee health insurance costs rose more than $39,000 this year, the expected expenses were overshot in the budget and gave the council leeway when added to a general fund surplus to hire the officer.

Currently, the town employs eight-patrol officers and three investigators. Police Chief Gary Goble will promote a patrol officer to investigator and spread other work among the staff.

According to Goble, his investigators overwork themselves on new cases due to growing evidence requirements from the State Attorney’s Office. When a felony call comes in, the investigators drop the case they’re on and go work the new case. Meanwhile, older cases grow colder.

Previous talks on how to pay for the officer were met with reluctance from council members when it appeared renewing the red light camera contract was the only revenue source sufficient to pay for the $86,500 cost of the patrol officer and equipment.

“The stigma that you get from red light cameras…that kind of publicity I don’t think is good for the town,” said council member Scott Land. “I think the benefits outweigh the negatives.”

The cameras themselves have increased public safety in the town and reduced crashes along the busy intersection.

State lawmakers authorized red light cameras in 2010 with the intention of improving public safety as well as earning state and local governments millions of dollars in 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.

The cameras have proven to be an unpopular source of revenue, while providing little in the way of measurable safety improvements.

In other budget action, the council unanimously voted to again fund its annaul Veteran’s Day celebration in the town at a $750. The council also voted to increase Town Manager Jim Hanson’s salary by $7,700.

The town council proceeds to its next public hearing with a large deficit in the sanitation fund caused, in part, from the Kingsley East project to beautify the three-block section of the road leading to the St. Johns River.

The town hopes to remodel the road with repaved roads, curbed medians, improved storm water drainage, new parking spots, landscaping and possibly decorative lighting.

Hanson recommended a 10 percent increase in sanitation rates to remedy the deficit. If voted on, this would be the first time in four years sanitation rates have risen in the town. Basic residential service would rise from $18.00 a month to $19.80.

The town saved approximately $80,000 by paying off its water and sewer debt last fall. Pension costs across departments continue their downward trend next year, with savings at approximately $100,000.

The town allocated $900,000 from its sales tax capital fund for street reconstruction and an additional $300,000 for resurfacing from its gas tax fund. The money will go to an ongoing 10-year project to repair roads to the point where only basic yearly maintenance will be required.

Millage rates will stay the same next fiscal year at 6.1818 mills, leading to $143,700 in revenue due to increased property values.

One mill equates to $1 in tax revenue for each $1,000 in assessed property value. At the proposed 6.1818 rate, a $150,000 home with a $50,000 Homestead Exemption will see a property tax bill of some $618.

The town’s next budget hearing will be Sept. 20.

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