Bye bye, camera's eye

Comments 0 | Recommend 0 City abandons traffic cameras, for now

June 3, 2009 - 11:51 AM

Heather Rutz
Published June 4, 2009
LIMA - Amid mounting criticism and concerns about the finances of a company it contracted with, the city ended its foray into camera traffic enforcement faster than a speeder through a school zone.
Mayor David Berger terminated the contract with Rhode Island-based Nestor Traffic Systems, he announced Wednesday, and will ask City Council on Monday to rescind legislation it passed creating the red light and speeding traffic camera enforcement.
The move came less than a month after speed cameras went into use around the city's school zones. Warnings that were to become $85 civil penalties for speeding angered drivers.
On Tuesday, mayoral candidate Dan Beck had called for the council to pull back legislation authorizing the program and put the cameras to a citywide vote. Beck said people raising their concerns with government worked.
"It was one of the most poorly thought out programs ever put in the community and it was the right thing to do to shut it down," Beck said.
While the city issued warnings, it has not issued violations. No one will pay any speeding fines and neither the city nor Nestor collected or made any money, Berger said.
Police officials did not yet have numbers of drivers caught on camera speeding, but expected to, if only for research, said Sgt. Joe Chavalia, who was running the program.
The red light cameras were supposed to be the focus of the enforcement, but weeks of delays on equipment installation led the city to question Nestor about its ability to perform, Berger said. On Monday, Nestor's chief legal officer communicated the company's serious financial trouble and Berger ended the contract Tuesday.
The company indicated an "imminent, significant" financial announcement, possibly within days, city Law Director Tony Geiger said, that could include even the company's existence.
Berger does not want to walk away from using cameras for traffic enforcement and made multiple suggestions for new legislation based on mistakes he said he and police officials made in the first attempt. Berger wants City Council to take the issue back in committee and research other companies.
"If nothing else, the short-term use of the speed camera demonstrated that we have a massive speeding problem in Lima, and I believe it still needs to be addressed," Berger said.
Berger suggested that a new program could initially fund flashing lights for school zones, at a cost of about $250,000. After that, money could be used exclusively for law enforcement, Berger said.
Berger also suggested changing the fine structure, including lowering the cost of a routine speeding violation.
In 2004, Police Chief Greg Garlock began pursuing the camera idea, which didn't pass constitutional muster in Ohio until 2008.