Northwood City Council on May 9 will decide whether or not to keep automated photo speed and red light enforcement cameras at two intersections.
As of The Press’s deadline on Thursday, May 2, the vote is expected to be 4-3 against the cameras.
Council approved a contract with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., of Arizona, in 2005 to install and operate the cameras at the intersections of Woodville and Lemoyne roads, and Wales and Oregon roads. The current three year contract with the company expired on April 23.
The city and Redflex share a percentage of the revenue from traffic citations issued as a result of the cameras, which have caught thousands of motorists speeding or going through red lights since they were installed.
Fines are $110. Violators do not get points on their licenses
In 2010, Councilmen Jim Barton, Mike Myers, Connie Hughes, and Dave Gallaher voted in favor of renewing the contract, while Councilmen Ed Schimmel, Dean Edwards, and Randy Kozina were opposed.
This time, Barton is not in favor of renewing the contract. His swing vote will put an end to the operation of the cameras.
Barton told The Press that he is now opposed because the “rationale for the cameras has gone from safety to revenue.”
“My support for the cameras was based on assurances that the revenue would be used for safety,” said Barton. “However, I now feel that we are in a situation where the camera revenue is being used more as a revenue source than for safety.”
He cited as an example the city’s purchase of a salt dome for $211,395 with Redflex funds.
“I can assure you that we would have put salt on our roads with or without that dome,” he said. “It becomes a concern when the wants become more important than the needs.”
The cameras, he said, is “looked at as a money maker for the city.”
In addition, he believes some motorists avoid the intersections, which in turn hurt business.
“I believe they have chased Woodville Road traffic away, which could be a factor in the lack of business on Woodville Road,” he said.
Edwards is also not pleased that Redflex receives a bigger percentage of the fines than the city.
“A majority of ticket money goes out of state,” he said.
“This money is wealth that is never to return to Northwest Ohio. In the end, the city receives a fraction of what it would have otherwise received on a properly issued traffic citation,” said Schimmel.
Supporters of the cameras say they are a deterrent to speeding and running red lights, and that revenue from the fines has funded many safety improvement projects in the city.
“I personally do not like Redflex,” said Gallaher. “I don’t think it’s sneaky or underhanded. We’ve done everything we can to let people know it’s there. We’ve spent money out of Redflex revenue to put speed limit signs on Woodville Road to let them know it’s there. And there’s been enough press about the cameras. But people still get caught by Redflex. The chief assures us it is making a difference. Just because of the schools at the Woodville Road intersection, I would like to see them stay a little while.”
“It’s a heavily traveled intersection, and a school zone,” said Hughes.
The Northwood Local Schools District has begun the process of working with the Ohio School Facilities Commission to create a master plan that could include new or renovated facilities. One of the possibilities, if approved by the school board, is construction of a new building near the Woodville Road intersection.
“If there is a new pre-K through 12 building at that site, there would be more traffic with construction and trucks going in and out. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. But that’s a possibility. It’s just going to become more of a need if that project, in fact, comes to fruition in the future,” said Hughes.
The cameras are also changing the behavior of motorists. It is common to see vehicles’ brake lights suddenly appear as motorists approach the intersections.
“I go through that intersection at least twice a day to work,” Hughes said of the camera at Woodville and Lemoyne roads. “Ever since Redflex has been there, I don’t have to be so afraid when the light changes and it’s time for me to go out into the intersection. People are now aware it’s there. They’re slowing down.”
“That’s what we want,” said Police Chief Tom Cairl. “If you do slow down, and you have an accident, it won’t be a severe accident.”
He credits the cameras for decreasing the accident rate at both intersections in the last several years.
“We’re one of the few communities in the area that has not had any fatal accidents in five years,” he said.
In addition, the cameras free up police officers who would be monitoring the intersections to respond to more pressing needs in the community, he said.
“We’re still down three officers from the recession. It’s like having 2 officers there 24 hours per day, seven days per week,” said Cairl.
The cameras should stay, said Meyers, because they have helped reduce the number of accidents.
“If the police chief tells us it’s one of his tools, and the intersections are safer accident-wise, then we should not go against what he’s saying. He’s a department head,” said Meyers. “We should keep them. There’s no doubt. If not, we’re not letting the department heads run their departments.”
Schimmel, who has always been vehemently opposed to the cameras, said he doubts they improve safety. The accident rate has been lower on Woodville Road, he believes, because “traffic has been greatly reduced on Woodville Road in the past several years.”
“The loss of businesses on Woodville Road has fueled this decrease in traffic,” said Schimmel. “A great number of people have told me that they avoid Northwood to avoid the cameras. With a decrease in the number of cars moving through the intersection, of course the number of accidents has decreased. The number of businesses on Woodville Road has also greatly deceased since the placement of the cameras. I do not believe that this is a coincidence.”
Cairl rejects claims that the cameras hurt business, and cites the location of traffic cameras near Westfield Franklin Park Mall in Toledo as an example.
“If that was truly the case, why is Franklin Park thriving. They have cameras near there. If those cameras were causing an issue, then their businesses would suffer,” said Cairl.
“Society is getting to the point where the cameras are beneficial for the safety of everyone,” he added. “It’s a voluntary system. If you don’t run red lights, and don’t speed, you won’t get a citation.”
In hopes of getting the contract renewed, Stoner plans to propose a compromise, such as lowering the fines and keeping a larger share of the revenue.
“Part of public opinion on Redflex is the excessive fine. I think if the cameras are going to stay, we have to address that,” he said.
If the contract is not renewed, Cairl said officers will be assigned to monitor the intersections because of the high accident rates before the cameras were installed.
“We have to. We already know these violations are occurring on a daily basis,” said Cairl. “It’ll be hard to do because we’re already down three officers. But we’ll do our best.”
Councilman Randy Kozina did not return messages to The Press seeking comment.