Red-light cameras were expected to result in big payoffs for many local governments, but the ticket-triggering devices have been a losing proposition for Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach officials.
That’s in contrast to three other county municipalities who have turned a profit from their cameras and use the same Arizona contractor to run the system.
County administrators say the cameras have not generated enough revenue to cover fees the county owes to American Traffic Solutions of Scottsdale, Ariz.
The county’s 10 cameras have generated $308,877 since they were installed at five intersections in the unincorporated area last year. But the county owed American Traffic Solutions $456,957 for that period.
County officials say the contract doesn’t require them to pay the $148,080 difference until the cameras turn a profit.
“We can’t lose money,” County Administrator Bob Weisman said. “We aren’t making any money off of this process either, because we aren’t generating the citations that were expected.”
West Palm Beach would owe American Traffic Solutions $199,425 for running the city’s red-light cameras if the system broke even. But like the county, the city won’t have to pay if the cameras continue to lose money. Only one of the city’s seven red light cameras has made a profit since the system was installed in 2010, West Palm Beach spokesman Elliot Cohen said.
Both West Palm Beach and county officials say they are taking a fresh look at their camera systems to see whether changes are needed. The city’s review will consider “the whole concept” of cameras, said Capt. David Bernhardt, a spokesman for the West Palm Beach Police Department.
Other municipalities in Palm Beach County have been buoyed by big payoffs from the cameras. Boynton Beach, Palm Springs and Juno Beach have all made a profit this year, and all contract with American Traffic Solutions.
In Boynton Beach, officials expect the city’s 11 cameras to generate $364,700 this year. As a result of the revenue, the city has agreed to add five more cameras at busy intersections.
Seven cameras in Juno Beach have generated $421,875 in revenue this year, officials said. Palm Springs has collected $190,212 from its four cameras over the last year, Police Chief Tom Ceccarelli said.
Palm Beach County officials say they would have to issue 64 tickets a month to cover the $4,750-per-camera fee that American Traffic Solutions charges each month to run the system. Two county lights have never hit the monthly 64 ticket threshold.
The county also doesn’t issue tickets for violations that occur less than a half second after the light turns red. By contrast, most of the county’s cities and towns with red-light cameras don’t have that grace period.
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies and West Palm Beach police officers also must review the images before a ticket can be issued.
From April to August, sheriff’s deputies spent 403 hours reviewing the camera images, photo and video, and preparing for court when motorists fight the tickets, officials said. The cost of that review has not been included in the county’s losses.
County administrators say another reason for the lower-than-expected revenues is that their cameras are not used for right-turn-on-red violations. Juno Beach is the only city using cameras to make money from right-on-red violations.
County commissioners are expected to discuss the cameras Oct. 30. Commissioner Burt Aaronson, who pushed for them, said that the goal was never to generate revenue.
“It was about saving lives, ” he said. “It was never intended to be a ‘gotcha’ thing.”
In August, a Boynton Beach study showed the number of vehicle crashes at four intersections dropped 55 percent in the first six months after the cameras were installed, compared to the previous six months.
Charles Territo, vice president of communications for American Traffic Solutions, said reducing accidents ultimately saves local governments money.
An analysis commissioned by the company showed that one camera in West Palm Beach could save the city and its residents $190,416 in its first year of operation and more than $859,000 over five years. The cost of medical care, vehicle removal and repair, and police and emergency personnel can burden residents and taxing authorities, the analysis said.
The cameras, Territo said, “are designed to change behavior, reduce violations and reduce the number of collisions resulting from red light running, not generate revenue.”