Northwood council is split over whether it should negotiate another three year contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., of Arizona, which operates the automated photo speed and red light enforcement cameras at two intersections.
The current three year contract, renewed in 2010, is set to expire on April 23.
The city receives a share of the revenue from traffic citations issued as a result of the cameras, which are installed at the intersections of Woodville and Lemoyne roads, and at Wales and Oregon roads.
In 2010, council voted 4-3 for the contract with Redflex. Councilmen in favor of the contract were Jim Barton, Mike Myers, Connie Hughes, and Dave Gallaher. Councilmen who were opposed were Ed Schimmel, Dean Edwards, and Randy Kozina.
This time, Barton said he would not be in favor of renewing the contract.
That would have made the vote 4-3 against renewing the contract at a committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 7. But Kozina, who is still opposed to the traffic cameras, did not attend the meeting, so council was divided 3-3.
Northwood’s share of revenue has funded several public safety improvements, such as the continuous right turn lane on Wales Road and the flashing lights at Lark school. It was also once used as compensation for a police officer who had been laid off.
Police Chief Tom Cairl said at the meeting that he thought the city could get a better deal from Redflex if council gave him authority to renegotiate the contract.
“I’m pretty sure we can get a better deal than we currently have,” he said. “We’ve already had it for eight years. We have received a total of $989,000 so far from the program itself. All the revenues have been used for safety initiatives throughout the community. There’s been a lot of good things done with this money. We still have $233,000 available.”
The number of accidents at Woodville and Lemoyne, where schools are located, has dropped by nearly 100 since the program went into effect in 2005, according to Cairl.
What’s the crash rate compared to where it was before?” asked Myers.
“I think our highest at Woodville and Lemoyne was about 20 and we’re down to about 15 accidents per year,” said Cairl.
“At Oregon and Wales, it has also gone down a lot over there,” he said.
The severity of accidents, he added, has also declined.
Cairl said children have been safer at the Woodville and Lemoyne roads intersection since 2005.
“It’s like having an officer there 24 hours a day, seven days per week,” he said.
“It’s not your recommendation to take the cameras out?” asked Myers.
“No,” said Cairl.
Vehicles, he said, slow down when they approach the intersection.
“They are aware of their surroundings. They hit their brake lights and are slowing down,” said Cairl.
Hughes said the cameras benefit the community.
“I saw what it was like before, when people were running those red lights, flying through them,” she said.
Gallaher asked Cairl what more can be done with the revenue to improve safety in the city.
“We have done a lot of signage, a lot of safety issues. We did the continuous turn lane on Oregon Road. It seems, especially with Owens College and the truck traffic there, to make it much, much safer going through there,” said Gallaher. “Going forward, are there other areas in the city where we need to look at the traffic flow or the signage – anything else that would make the rest of the city a little bit safer as far as traffic?”
Cairl said putting pavement markings on Oregon Road would assist traffic getting onto I-75.
“It might also reduce accidents there as well,” he said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is also working with the city to re-time the traffic signals on Woodville Road, he said.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of backup of traffic during rush hour times. People stop from Lemoyne all the way over I-280 toward Speedway,” he said.
Administrator Bob Anderson said the city currently receives 50 percent of the revenue as a result of the Redflex citations.
“There’s no reason that more of that money couldn’t stay in the local economy,” he said.
“I would support the chief on this,” said Mayor Mark Stoner. “I don’t know where else it would be needed more than in a school zone. I know some people don’t like it, and I know some people on council don’t like it. But I think, especially in a school zone, it has advantages.”
Cairl said another automated photo speed and red light enforcement camera company, American Travel Solutions (ATS), of Tempe, Arizona, would like to compete for the city’s business.
Schimmel, who was against the cameras in 2010, also expressed his opposition this time around.
“My feelings on the cameras haven’t changed from the last time the contract was up,” he said.
“I think it’s one of the police chief’s tools,” Myers said in support of the cameras. “I don’t think it should change. I like the cameras. I always have. If I go through one too fast, it’s my fault.”
Edwards, who was also against the cameras in 2010, remained opposed. Kozina has not changed his mind, either, according to Edwards and Schimmel.
“From my conversation with Randy, he feels the same way,” said Edwards.
“At the Safety Committee meeting, Randy said he was not in favor of it,” said Schimmel, a member of the committee. Kozina is chairman of the committee.
Barton said he was opposed this time because he believes the revenue from the citations, which is supposed to be earmarked for safety improvements, has been used for other projects.
“It looks like it’s going from safety to revenue. And I will not support that,” said Barton.
“We’ve done a lot of good things with that money,” said Stoner. “Without the cameras, there would be a lot of good things that would not get done.”
Stoner asked Barton to pick out 10 projects that were funded by Redflex fines that the city could have done on its own.
“Tell me how we would have been able to afford them,” said Stoner.
“That’s not the point,” said Barton. “The point is, when they put these cameras in, it was for safety. Now it’s `How much money can we make off of it.’”
“So in reality, if we don’t do some of those things, we are really a less safe city,” said Stoner.
“I would not necessarily say that,” said Barton.
“They both have a valid point,” said Gallaher. “What if we renegotiated the contract and lowered the fine? Our revenue would go down, and we would be giving people who would get caught a little bit of a break.”
“That would be fine,” said Hughes. “But it’s not about the revenue.”
“I talked about safety reduction. I didn’t say a thing about revenue,” said Myers.
“In my view,” said Schimmel, “Woodville Road is death. Everything has left Woodville Road. Anything we can do to bring traffic back to Woodville Road, we need to do. If those red light cameras scare away five drivers, that’s five drivers too many. I go over to Navarre Avenue, I can’t even turn back onto the road from a parking lot, there’s so much traffic. Our businesses are fleeing over there. I have had so many people tell me they will not drive through Northwood. I’m not talking two or three people, but probably there are 100 people who tell me that. As a business owner on Woodville Road, I don’t need clients being scared away. I’ve had people tell me they will go to our Central Avenue office just to stay away from Northwood.”
“So they don’t want to abide by the law,” said Myers. “So you want to bring more traffic back?”
“We need the traffic. Our city is suffering,” said Schimmel.
The safety committee left it up to the committee of the whole on whether to recommend renewing the contract with Redflix, said Schimmel. Without Kozina, council was at a standstill.
“We may as well let Tom go out for bids and see what he comes back with,” said Schimmel.