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City staff recommends ending red-light camera contract

By T. Scott Batchelor
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Greenville city staff plans to ask the City Council tonight to pull the plug on a photo-enforced red-light ticketing program.

The city attempted in 2005 to implement a program where cameras would photograph cars driving illegally through intersections. The project was never launched because of a lawsuit involving High Point.

That lawsuit stated municipalities are required to send 90 percent of money received from citations to county school systems. The state Supreme Court in late June refused to review a state Court of Appeals opinion that said money from red-light camera tickets should go to public schools.

Greenville entered into the red-light camera agreement with the basic premise that it would implement a public safety program funded completely by the violators, City Attorney Dave Holec wrote in an agenda memo.

Based on the Court of Appeals ruling, $45 of every $50 citation in Greenville would be paid to Pitt County Schools, leaving $5 for Redflex Traffic Systems to run the camera program and recoup its investment. Greenville's contract with Redflex pays $47 to the company for each of the first 210 tickets issued each month. The city would have to come up with $92 $47 for Redflex and $45 for Pitt County Schools.

That makes the program "economically unfeasible," Holec said Wednesday.

Redflex installed cameras at Memorial Drive's intersection with Westhaven Road and Arlington Boulevard, and the company was slated to start issuing tickets Jan. 27, 2005. But Greenville struck an agreement with Redflex to suspend the program until the red light challenge was resolved in court.

Under the contract, the city is liable for installation costs of up to $18,000 per intersection if it cancels the agreement, Holec said. That would total a maximum payment of $36,000 to Redflex.

Since the company submitted costs in excess of the $18,000 per intersection, Holec recommended the maximum of $36,000 be paid by the city to cancel the contract, he said.

The attorney said he expects the recommendation will be adopted by the City Council during its 7 p.m. meeting in council chambers, third floor of City Hall, 200 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

"The city's red light enforcement program was a public-safety program with the objective being to reduce incidents of vehicle collisions and red light violations," Holec said.

"Although this expense will be incurred, the city is fortunate that the High Point decision came at a time prior to the city issuing citations," Holec wrote in his memorandum to the council. "Those cities which were issuing citations will now be required to pay the school systems in accordance with the decision."

That means High Point will be paying its school system approximately $1.5 million, and Charlotte will be paying its school system approximately $4.5 million, Holec wrote.

In other business slated for tonight, staff wants the City Council to authorize the mayor to send a letter to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners "emphasizing the importance of the U.S. 264 East corridor planning process to the city of Greenville and encouraging the county to complete the U.S. 264 East land-use plan in a deliberate, but timely manner."

A joint "issues" committee of the City Councils of Washington, N.C., and Greenville has said planning is key to preserving U.S. 264 as a transportation connector between Greenville and Washington.

At Commissioner Eugene James' urging, the board voted June 4 to bar county planners from spending time or money on planning for the corridor. The Pitt County Planning Department had prepared a draft study of land development along the roughly 10-mile stretch of highway.

Landowners living in the area are worried the state will declare the highway a freeway and limit their access to it, James said. On June 18, commissioners voted 8-1, with James dissenting, to resume the planning process.

The section of highway in question roughly runs from the intersection of U.S. 264 and Greenville Boulevard east to the Beaufort County line.

T. Scott Batchelor can be contacted at sbatchelor@coxnc.com and 329-9567.