The Palm Coast City Council on Tuesday appeared ready to end its current contract with American Traffic Solutions in 2017, two years earlier than the city’s original contract with ATS stipulated.
The city would also reduce all operating cameras from 43 to just five. But it would also see its revenue per camera drop, from the current $700 per month to $350 per month. The city’s revenue from the cameras would drop from $361,000 to $21,000.
The council hasn’t formalized those decisions: it will do so at a council meeting either next week or later this month, and there is a small chance that terms of the contract amendments may change between now and then.
ATS had initially asked that if the contract was to be reduced to 2017, the city would be stripped of all revenue. The council wanted to reduce the term and preserve the full $700. That, City Manager Jim Landon told the council, was like “getting something for nothing.” But ATS agreed in negotiations with Landon and City Attorney Bill Reischmann to cut its demand in half.
“They pretty much met us half-way,” council member Heidi Shipley said.
But to continue the program, Palm Coast employees will have to pick up a significant portion of the work ATS was doing to date, and that a Florida appeal court declared illegal. The court ruled that only a government agency may issue traffic violations that convert to court-issued tickets, not a private company like ATS. ATS may issue the first “Notice of Violation,” which is a citation issued under the city’;s code enforcement department. The cpourt has no issue with that step. But if a driver refuses to pay, the ticket turns into a “Uniform TYraffic Citation” under the court system. That’s the part only a government agency may handle.
Currently, Palm Coast and ATS have suspended the issuance of Uniform Traffic Citations, which means that if drivers refuse to pay their initial $158 notice of violation, they will not be pursued: the ticket will go away, enabling drivers essentially to ignore such tickets. But that will soon change as the issuance of violations will transfer to Palm Coast. Palm Coast administration has agreed to pick up that burden. Landon says the work load for the staff will be about the same as it was when the city was handling 43 cameras.
The reduction of the cameras and the amended contract in no way alters another reality for the city: ATS and Palm Coast, along with 30 cities that have such cameras, have been sued. The class-action lawsuit will be costing Palm Coast money, both in legal costs and in whatever settlement or judgment results from the lawsuit. To the council, the question was: who will defend Palm Coast in the suit?
Where Cameras Would Remain
ATS has agreed to defend Palm Coast and the other cities. That offer is part of the battered company’s attempts to preserve as much of its business as possible.
The city council had explored fully suspending its contract with ATS. But ATS threatened a lawsuit against the city. The council asked how much it would cost the city to sever the contract. Landon said ATS would ask for at least $1.8 million.
Until 2012, the city could have pulled out of the contract without cause: the city’s original contract with ATS had included just such a clause. But when Landon negotiated amendments in 2012, the amendments that expanded the cameras’ numbers from 10 to 43, the termination-without-cause clause was eliminated–without council discussion on the matter. That’s what’s keeping Palm Coast from dropping the program altogether now.
For all that, Palm Coast’s attorney, William Reischmann, said the legal environment regarding the cameras is “muddled” at the moment, with a lot of uncertainties ahead.
“So we are stuck with 2017 as a best-case scenario,” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts said.