Northwood council voted 4-3 last week in support of a new, 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 previous contract was set to expire on April 24.
The city will receive a greater share of the revenue received 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.
Council members voting in favor of continuing with the traffic cameras were Jim Barton, Mike Myers, Connie Hughes, and Dave Gallaher.
Voting against the contract were Councilmen Ed Schimmel, Dean Edwards, and Randy Kozina.
The city last year discontinued the operation of its speed van, a mobile vehicle that cited motorists for speeding.
Northwood’s share of revenue from the citations funds public safety improvements, such as the continuous right turn lane on Wales Road and the flashing lights at Lark school. It is also being used as compensation for a police officer who had been laid off.
Schimmel, chairman of the safety committee, had urged council to vote against the contract, saying the cameras were not a deterrent to traffic accidents at those intersections.
“I really don’t feel, based on the numbers, that these cameras are about safety,” said Schimmel. “Just looking at the figures on the number of accidents prior to having the cameras, and the number of accidents after having the cameras, there’s really no difference in those numbers.”
There is improvement at the continuous turn on Wales Road, he said, “but that has absolutely nothing to do with the cameras being there.”
“That’s my biggest problem with the cameras. I don’t think they improve safety,” said Schimmel.
He also said the cameras created a distraction to motorists.
“I think it’s not a good thing to have something that could even potentially drive people away from our community, even if it’s one person a day who doesn’t come down Woodville Road and purchase gas or stop at a restaurant because of these cameras,” said Schimmel. “We’re losing money in our economy.”
He also frowned on Redflex’s share of revenue leaving the city, since U.S. operations are based in Arizona, and a global office is located in Australia.
“And that’s money we can’t afford in this economy, for this area to lose a penny, let alone thousands upon thousands of dollars,” said Schimmel.
In addition, he questioned the enforcement of the civil citations.
“We’re issuing civil citations to people, collection letters, basically. Anyone who’s out here breaking the laws of our city needs to have a traffic citation, which can’t be issued by the cameras, only by officers. So these people are getting off. They’re coming through our city, breaking our traffic laws, and instead of getting points against their license, where they would ultimately lose their license, instead all they’re getting is this little ticket. And if they don’t pay it, they just throw it in the trash. There’s really no penalty there. I suppose we could sue them civilly for $100, but it seems kind of pointless to me. So the people who are paying, we’re losing that money, it’s going out of the area, out of the community, and the people who are paying shouldn’t be. That’s what it’s boiling down to. A person has a right to confront their accuser. And a situation such as this, there is no accuser. That’s why we cannot make these criminal citations. They’re just merely civil citations, and I think, cons
itutionally, they should be illegal,” said Schimmel.
Myers said the cameras are needed to catch motorists breaking the law.
“They are speeding, and breaking the law. We laid off police officers. We don’t have the officers there to do the citations. The severity of crashes have gone down 57 percent, according to the fire department. So we’re not having the injuries like we’ve had before,” said Myers.
“This costs the city absolutely nothing. We have a better deal than what Redflex is getting. They’re good for the city,” said Myers.
The continuous turn lane at Oregon Road has improved safety, said Gallaher.
“I think had we not seen the numbers, what was going on in that area with the use of the camera, I don’t think there would be a continuous turn there. I think we would still have traffic backing up. I think we’d have a major problem there. Do I like the cameras? No. But I’m not so opposed to the cameras that I want to see them gone, especially with the number of police officers we’re losing,” said Gallaher. “The only way you’re going to get a citation is if you’re speeding or running a red light. And with 15 years on the fire department, I do not feel guilty at all for giving a citation, no matter what kind it is, to someone who doesn’t drive safely. And I’m sorry, it is a tremendous draw on the community. The bottom line is it makes people a little more aware of their speed and the lights. I’m sure it doesn’t make them happy. It doesn’t make me happy. I’d much rather do without them. But I’m not sure we can afford that right now.”
Schimmel said supporters of the cameras seem to be attracted towards the revenue the city gets from the citations.
“It just sounds to me like it’s all about money, what we always come back to,” said Schimmel. “Negotiating for the best contract – about money. Putting in turn lanes – about money. Using the money from the red light cameras to build a salt dome – everything is about money when it comes to these cameras.”
He cited statistics that show the cameras, since being installed in 2005, have not had any impact on the number of accidents with injuries at the Woodville and Lemoyne intersection. The number of accidents with injuries at that location included three in 2003, five in 2004, three in 2005, three in 2006, four in 2007, three in 2008, and two in 2009.
“There’s really, statistically, no difference in the number of injuries,” said Schimmel. “The number of accidents is virtually the same.”
For instance, the number of injury accidents was the same in 2004 and 2006, he noted.
“In 2004, we didn’t even have the cameras. So I really don’t see any basis at all to say this is about stopping injuries or accidents. These cameras are about money,” said Schimmel.
“And they’re also about getting people’s attention to slow down through that intersection,” said Hughes. “It is a school zone. People are more aware and they’re going to slow down. Hopefully, we can save a tragic accident or death.”