Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Council Committee Clicks No on Red Light Cameras

Posted By on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 2:16 PM

Presented with several options this morning to generate revenue with vehicle-related fines, the City Council's O&M Budget committee passed on red-light cameras, extra fees for booting and towing, and fines for unpaid parking tickets.

The red light camera proposal was expected to produce $1.8 million in revenue for the city. The cost of the system — around $480,000 for the first year — would have come from that revenue, leaving the city with a net profit of $1.3 million.

The figure came from estimating 15 violations per day at each of 20 intersections.

"I am fully in support of it for our community. I think it will reduce accidents," said Memphis Police director Larry Godwin.

But council members weren't convinced, citing the cost to the city, the overrun that could happen at city courts, and, for committee chair Wanda Halbert, the disenfranchisement of young African-American men with multiple speeding tickets.

"I'm not sure revenue generation is the main thing for me," Halbert said.

City court clerk Thomas Long also came before the committee to present several initiatives from his office: Add booting and increase the cost of booting and towing a car from $25 to $75, give the city the latitude to tow for non-payment of moving violations, and add a $20 fee to a parking ticket if it's not paid within 30 days (with an additional $20 after the next 30 days).

"When you tow vehicles now, that money goes to a contract for tow services," Long said. "I'm recommending that we bring towing in-house, especially for the downtown area where all the meters are. ... If someone has three or more parking tickets, a boot would be put on for three days. Then after three days, the vehicle would [be towed]."

Committee members dismissed Long's proposals, saying the city would be making bad situations worse and called Long "cold."

"To tow a car and inconvenience a whole household and pile some other fees on top of that, that's not the way this council member wants to vote," said Barbara Swearengen Ware.

Janis Fullilove said she knew a person whose truck was sold because he couldn't afford to get it back from the city.

"I think it will create more hardship for individuals," she said. "If they don't get their car out in time, it's sent to the impound lot where there are more fees."

Long defended his suggestions, saying that he has been court clerk for more than 14 years and that every year the council asks him why the city loses about $2 million annually from unpaid fines and fees.

"I'm graded on the money we don't collect," he said.

Godwin also hoped the council would look at speed cameras after implementing the red light cameras. He said he didn't have the manpower to put officers on 385, nor is there room on the 385 median to safely pull drivers over.

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