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Illegal for 4 Years, Palm Coast’s Red-Light Cameras to Comply With State Law; Cash Dips

| June 16, 2010

The state came up with its own solution for illegal traffic cameras.

Since 2007, the Palm Coast City Council, like 25 other cities in the state, had been breaking the law by automatically snapping pictures of drivers running red lights and collecting $125 fines from them. (The cameras ostensibly focus on license plates.) State law explicitly states that the Legislature alone may pass traffic laws. Palm Coast and other cities evaded the prohibition by classifying red-light running under code violations: the same department that keeps an eye on the height of your grass was administering your traffic fines.

In February, Circuit Court Judge Jerald Bagley in Miami declared the scheme illegal, opening the way for lawsuits that would place cities like Palm Coast in a vulnerable position.

State legislators for years had been attempting to codify the use of red-light cameras. They failed year after year as lawmakers were uncomfortable with the Big Brother aspect of cameras at intersections. A compromise law passed last spring and will be in effect beginning July 1. All red-light cameras will have to abide by one, uniform state standard. Schemes such as those running in Palm Coast would be invalidated. Code enforcement departments would be taken out of the equation. The devices could stay as long as they were in compliance with state rules on how they are calibrated and administered.

Most significantly, cities can no longer use the cameras as cash-cow revenue, as they had. The fines are set at $158, but $83 of that must go to the state. Localities can keep $75, but must pay whoever runs their camera system out of that pot—and they must pay that company a flat fee, not, as Palm Coast and all other cities had been doing until now, a per-ticket kickback. That diminishes the incentive for companies to run such systems. But it also decreases the likelihood that cameras are calibrated in such a way as to maximize the possibility of infractions. (It is obviously illegal for a police officer to get a $40 kickback, or commission, every time he writes a traffic ticket. But that’s exactly how the system was set up with companies like American Traffic Solutions, which runs Palm Coast’s cameras.)

Also, the city will no longer have a hearing officer for appeals from red-light running. Drivers may pay their fine within 30 days or appeal through the normal county and circuit court system. If drivers don’t pay within 30 days, and don’t appeal, the fine becomes a state violation. No points are added to the driver’s license, but the fines would have to be paid at license renewal time—or no license.

And cities will have to clearly indicate where cameras are in use. That’s not always evident in Palm Coast.

Palm Coast claims the cameras—10 of them at six intersections, including Palm Coast Parkway at Belle Terre and at Old Kings Road—are there for safety, not to make money. That’s debatable: numerous studies show that traffic cameras don’t necessarily reduce accidents. They change their nature (from t-boning to rear-end collisions). Around the state, cities banked on the new revenue from traffic cameras to make up for lost revenue due to the recession. Palm Coast has generated $1.65 million since the cameras have been installed, according to the city’s finance director. About $500,000 was paid to American Traffic Solutions. That company, which lobbied cities hard to win contracts, grew 500 percent since 2003. Goldman Sachs became a big investor in 2008.  Traffic cameras, in other words, as investors know, are about generating money.

Palm Coast is re-writing its contract with American Traffic Solutions. That contract will be presented to the council for approval on July 6. It’s possible for the city to increase the number of traffic cameras at various intersections to make up for lost revenue. But it won’t necessarily follow that more cameras mean more money. Now that the company running the cameras must be paid a flat fee, adding more cameras will cost that company more without generating additional revenue, and more cameras at less-trafficked intersections may be a losing proposition for both the city and the company. The state’s rule is designed for just that sort of balancing—to deny cities and companies the incentive to add more cameras just to make money.

At a Palm Coast City Council meeting on Monday, the change was interpreted as an infringement on the city’s governance. “It’s not the city proposing this. This is something the legislature says you have to do,” City Manager Jim Landon said. “This,” Mayor Jon Netts said, “is one more example of the erosion of the concept of home rule, where the state pre-empts one more thing.”

Not quite. This is the state telling cities they must follow the law, not find ways to evade it like red-light runners and hope no one notices.

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22 Responses for “Illegal for 4 Years, Palm Coast’s Red-Light Cameras to Comply With State Law; Cash Dips”

  1. BW says:

    The interesting thing I find with this is that so many are against the cameras and even make it out to be this ‘evil government taking our money’ thing. Let’s go back a bit . . . say, prior to the camera installations. Weren’t you all the same people yelling about people running the red lights and the accidents. Wasn’t that a part of the huge debate over a Palm Coast police force? Oh and let’s not forget one other little thing . . . you’re not supposed to run red lights! So if you don’t run a red light . . . you don’t get a ticket. Just like . . . if you don’t go over the speed limit . . . you don’t get a speeding ticket.

    Oh, I know . . . it’s ‘unconstitutional’. We love that phrase nowadays. So, how is it ‘unconstitutional’? Is it ‘unconstitutional’ if a patrol car witnesses you running a red light, stops you, and gives you a ticket? No. It’s not. But in that case, the driver gets a ticket. In the case of the cameras . . . the owner of the vehicle gets a ticket. Here’s an idea . . . if you loan your car out and the person driving it runs a red light . . . get the money from them to pay it. Who are you loaning your car to anyway? Complete strangers you do not trust to obey traffic laws?

    Here’s what I say to do. Pull all the cameras, patrol cars ignore the lights, and let the people do as they want. With the first fatality or injury at those lights, how about each of those opposed to them appear at the funeral or hospital with a t-shirt displaying your support of the removal of the cameras.

    • Anonymous says:

      BW, I don’t believe these same people were complaining. We, in this day and age, have to get back to basic common sense. I’ve received a ticket for a violation that I didn’t commit and am unable to prove it because the co. controlling the camara lights can “photo shop,” for lack of a better term, and change the details.
      Also I know a professional that was is the car with their son and when they viewed the violation on line, the cars around them were taken out of the video!
      There are times when the light changes on you and at the last second you should be able to go and not slam on the brakes! You can’t control time or every situation so the “you’re not supposed to run them anyway” is BULL!… Common sense people.
      Put the lights back to the 5 second delay like they used to be! Vote these people out!

  2. starfyre says:

    i want a red light camera on my fridge door

  3. sheila says:

    BW, I believe that you missed a key point raised in this article: “numerous studies show that traffic cameras don’t necessarily reduce accidents. They change their nature (from t-boning to rear-end collisions)…”

  4. Rick G says:

    I am glad at least the state has stepped in to lend some sanity to the red light camera business… and that’s what it is a business. I don’t believe for one second that a red light runner is going to not do that because a camera is in the intersection. They are either oblivious to what is going on around them or contempuous of traffic laws anyway. I know that there has been an increase in rear end accidents at the cameraed interesections in Palm Coast. On July 1 they will now have to find write business elsewhere so I would caution everyone to look out for radar traps.

  5. BW says:

    Sheila, I don’t believe I’ve missed any ‘point’. For one, the reduction in ‘t-bone’ type of accidents indicates a reduction in others actually running the lights which is why a t-bone style accident would occur. Those are also the types of accidents that are more dangerous to drivers and passengers. This therefore refutes Rick’s statement also that ‘red light runners’ not stopping because of a camera. They act as a deterant and bring awareness just the same as posting a sherriff’s vehicle will create more awareness in regards to obeying traffic laws.

    The fines that are imposed are able to be refuted. Those that are paying is because they have clearly run red lights at those intersections. My question has always been would the arguments still be there if these were fines handed out by officers that resulted in the same numbers? Most likely not. It seems to me that people are more irritated that they are held accountable for violation of the law when caught and would much rather prefer ‘getting away with things’. The bottom-line is the latter is far more unsafe of an environment on our roads. The notion that the money is not being put to good use is absurd as well. It is what is paying to maintain our roads. I actually think it’s a great business model and the company supplying the cameras has to get paid somehow. Likewise, when people obey the traffic laws . . . the revenue decreases. The truth is that the revenue is high because people are not obeying the traffic laws.

    Here’s the real slap in the face with it all, the cameras don’t go away. The thing that changed is where the money now goes to. Where’s that? The state. So does anyone think we will actually ever see that money locally? The answer is no. So where’s the ‘win’?

  6. H. Peter Stolz says:

    There are two sides to every argument, but calling Palm Coast’s red light cameras illegal shows the writer’s bias. The lesson is simple. Obey the law and you have nothing to worry about!

  7. Grump says:

    i got one of these tix,, and unfairly, i paid it cause i didnt want to affect my license or tags,,or go to court and miss a day of work, some people dont run red lites, they get caught in intersection due to another car going then all of a sudden slowing due to some issue then i got stuck getting snapshotted. if i run a red lite, i expect a tix, if i dont i dont think its unfair i get a tix. a camera takes a pic at times, if ur in intersection, u get a tix,, bottom line.. i think they should be removed,,, and yes i have seen and been in circumstances where accidents occured and almost occurred due to people wanting to go, and then not going and slamming on brakes and cause accidents.. its a second quessing game at these intersections… I feel they r unsafe.. im aggreement to abiding by laws, but not these cameras, i think we should all b given our money back till the city can ABIDE by the laws…!!! IT T WAS VERY HARD FOR ME TO PAY THIS TIX WITH THE WAY TIMES ARE..But yet people are capitalizing on the hard working citizens who r trying to just get by… Just more proof of the dishonesty in our county…

  8. PC resident says:

    The problem with the entire concept of red light camera’s and police as a whole is that nothing is ACTUALLY being PREVENTED. Its all reactive, The police show up AFTER someone steals your stuff or AFTER the suspect has left the scene. Its very rare that a cop catches someone in the act of breaking the law. The red light camera companies know they will never prevent red light runners all together so they figured out a way to make money from an inevitable event. You cant fix stupid. Ticket them for running red lights, Revenue; or someone slams on their breaks to avoid running the light because the yellow light time was reduced to catch MORE red light runners, causes a rear end collision and ticket the other driver for wreckless driving, REVENUE! Win-win for local government…

    Why dont we put camera’s everywhere, scan people’s pupils as they walk through public areas and punish any criminals that are “caught on camera” and get rid of police all together. It will save governments millions in salaries and benefits. Yeah, as if unemployment isn’t high enough, we’ll replace cops with red light camera’s.

  9. Robert L says:

    PC resident. Your post is a logical response to the red light camera issue. However, you are presuming that the decisions by the Palm Coast city Council are based on logic. Past performance is a very good indicator of future behavior.

    I have said all along that the red light cameras are a revenue generating exercise cloaked in a safety argument. If safety was the main concern the two council members would not have been in Tallahassee lobbying for total control or a larger share of the revenue pie.

  10. John L says:

    I believe the cameras have a place in PC. They should be used to help study the flow of traffic and it’s patterns. This will enable Law Enforcement to have an Officer in the place where red-light runners and speeders tend to be, at the time they tend to pass most often. Then the Law Enforcement Officer can pull them over and issue a ticket to the driver responsible for the infraction. This is the proper usage of a traffic camera. As far as reducing intersection accidents, increase the yellow light time or have a full second of all reds before allowing traffic to continue. The root of the problem in PC is that the city was not ready for, nor did they adapt to, the tremendous population explosion, and now find themselves with congested roadways. Study traffic patterns and look at ways to ease the flow. In the long run, it will make life in PC much better for all.

  11. Kip Durocher says:

    You are all missing the point. The red light cameras are but one step in Jim Landon’s many pronged plan to build the Tajma City Hall for Palm Coast. The JIM LANDON BUILDING. Coming to a 25 acre plot near you soon!

  12. C McLaughlin says:

    Yep, I got a ticket, while my lovely little sports car was in my garage and…I was in my nice bed for the night. Camera shows the intersection (near my house) and an illegible license no. Car sited is different color and different make and the hour I would not be out and about!
    Incident is being investigated. More tax $$ at work.
    Signed: Mac

  13. Carl says:

    I now am charging a premium to all of my City of Palm Coast Government clients, as well as all the clients I have in Palm Coast due to this. If I have to pay $158, you better believe I will rake that out of the city when I bill them for services rendered! Automatic $158 fee just to do business in Palm Coast as “Insurance”.

  14. PC vacation ? says:

    P.C. vacation ? Never again. and top comment from B.W.— You must be on the citys payroll, or you never drive. Its still a scam but at least now I feel better the state gets half the money { I hope} because the Violation is sent from Temple AZ. and to pay it you send it to Cincinnati OH. Buy the way I read that $4.00 of that fine includes them sending it Certified mail. I didnt get mine that way. So I guess I could say I never got it but I will pay it anyway to help out a failing community . And I know it will cost you far more when this gets around. To the community, I feel for you because a light that changed red when my front bumper crossed the line will happen to you and “B.W “. Then we will see a comment from him complaining.[ under a different name though] Hey I have a thought ! New York city should have these cameras. It could pay off the national debt !!!!! But I guess they would have done it already ” If it was legal”. Find loopholes with the law? Your city sounds as if its in Washington. Locals can fix this— VOTE THEM OUT.—- P.S—- Move to Lee County Fl. We dont play these games and still have reserve money left from the building boom to run our County. Wheres Yours? We welcome your vacationers too!!!!

  15. JMC says:

    Hey I think that this red light camera is a joke. I know of cities that have it and they don’t fine as much. Yes we or people should not run red lights but not all the cars going through are running the light. Some of the lights are not yellow that long. I have seen them go from green to yellow and then red in the blink of an eye. Some people are going through cause they think they have the time and they don’t. My daughter got one and she was just in the intersection and the camera took her picture. We did not know it was there and I know that is not an argument but the people should know where they are and be informed that they are around. The tkt was $158. I just read you have 30 days to pay the fine. Nothing was indicated on the citation that we had that time or get this that the fine would go up if not paid by then. It is now $264. If that is not trying to get money then what is. They could have told you that the fine would increase by $106 dollars. We will go to court on this tkt. We will pay the $158 but should not pay the 106. That’s not fare.

  16. Palm Coastian says:

    I find it very depressing that the thought proccess of the people running this city is so warped as to actually believe that they can make up for lost revenue due to the recession (as i have no doubt was their intention) by reaching further into the pockets of its hard working citizens. In a county that was not long ago rated #1 for unemployment, has a higher sales tax than its neighboring counties, spends that $ on frivolous things like $300,000.00 signs, and does absolutely nothing to create more high-paying steady jobs… I would have hoped someone with some common sense would step up and point out the fact that the well has to run dry at some point. Werent we just downgraded from a tripleA country?? Why are our governing bodies so concerned with things like the hieght of our grass, or weather we put our trash out a day early?? And now this as well… I have never been at fault in a traffic accident in my life until the other day when the person in front of me slammed on his breaks as the light turned yellow, and due to the rain i was unnable to stop. So much for safety! This is a joke.

  17. John Smith says:

    What makes people think they have a RIGHT to RUN a RED LIGHT. This arguement just never makes any sense to me about them having that right to run it and take a chance on hitting a pedestrian or a car. Tell me what gives you that right, you got caught. Tell me something that will make sense about it.

  18. L says:

    Obey the law and you have nothing to worry about! yea that real like a good idea if we had that kinda thinking durring our war for independance we wuld be british subjects just or unjust we have a right to fight for wat we think is right or take for example the whiskey rebellion were the government put taxes on farmers who made whiskey now my point is we are americans an wether or not its right or wrong we got a right to fight for what we the people think not the goverment i say we get rid of them times are hard enought

    • Anonymous says:

      You Can’t control time and every situation. Use common sense! The lights used to have a 5 second delay for a last minute decision: go or slam on the brakes. People make mistakes and in a perfect world everyone would be courteous…. Even Jesus said the laws were meant for their intention, not to be followed to the letter. No one is perfect and everyone shouldn’t have to made an example of or be taxed/fined for every little thing.

  19. L says:

    stupid Red-Light Cameras

  20. Former PC resident says:

    I do not run red lights but I did go by to see how our old house looked. When I came out of Cypress
    Knoll at intersection of East Hampton/Palm Coast Parkway there were 2 vehicles at the light a car and a
    utilities truck. they turned right on red and when my turn came I looked for a no turn on red but no
    warning. After stopping and looking around I then turned right on red. This was in December 2013
    then in FEB 2014 I received a notice from the camera company that I had gone thru a red light. NOT TRUE. I called a Lawyer in Palm Coast and he advised me to wait until I got a ticket from the city of
    Palm Coast raising the cost to $200+ then call him. He said there is a timer in the pavement at that
    intersection and if you don wait long enough it will trigger a violation. I guess waiting behind 2 vehicles
    to turn right is not enough time. As yet I have not gotten a ticket from Palm C and I did not pay the
    first notice on advice of the attny as he said that was not a ticket only a notification with a $ value on it.

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