Vero scraps red light camera contract, future uncertain

VERO BEACH — The City of Vero Beach is back to square one on its plan to install cameras to monitor drivers who run red lights at city intersections.

In a 4-1 vote with only Vice Mayor Sabin Abell dissenting, the city council agreed to scrap the existing contract with Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions to operate the camera system because recently passed state law caused the contract to be out of compliance with Florida law.

 

“The law has changed such that you have to change the terms of the contract,” said Assistant City Attorney Wayne Comment. “If the council doesn’t want to go with the changes, there was a clause in there that says we can terminate this if there were changes in the law.”

At first, it seemed that there would be a 3-2 vote to move forward with the program, but Councilmen Ken Daige and Brian Heady pushed back, insisting that the contract be killed, until Mayor Kevin Sawnick and Councilman Tom White finally weighed in on the side of starting from scratch with the contract.

“I think the vote is that if you want to do the cameras, let’s do it in a way that’s good for the city,” Councilman Ken Daige said.

White and Sawnick maintained that they are still in favor of red-light cameras for public safety reasons. Abell said the measure to scrap the contract is “a waste of time.”

Council members also unanimously approved a measure to change the city’s ordinance regarding red-light cameras to fall in line with the new law, with the proviso that any change in the ordinance would run parallel with the process of completing a new contract that met the city’s concerns about privacy, fees and duration of obligation.

The vote to scrap the contract occurred despite an impassioned plea by Chief Don Dappen, who suggested members of the council were not taking their responsibility for public safety seriously enough.

One concern about the old contract was that it did not include any provisions that would safeguard the personal information — including names, addresses and driver license numbers — of drivers captured by the cameras.

The previous plan for the cameras was that footage would be reviewed by a lieutenant in the traffic division of the police department and violators would receive a fine which would be characterized as a code violation, but not a traffic infraction. The new Florida law changes that, giving the video-captured violation the same weight and price tag as if it had been observed by an officer on the scene.

Of each $158 fine, the City of Vero Beach would receive $75 and the State of Florida would receive the balance. Out of the city’s $75, all expenses of the program would be paid, including the administration, monitoring by the police lieutenant and whatever fees would be charged by American Traffic Solutions.

After the meeting, Councilman Brian Heady said he thought that the contract for the red-light cameras may need to be put out to bid again, now that the existing contract has been scrapped.

“We have no contract,” Heady said. “I think that logically it would need to go out for bid again.”

Heady added that, now that the State of Florida has paved the way for red-light cameras to exist legally throughout the state, not only on city and county roads, but on state highways, the city might be able to benefit from new companies who have responded and recently entered the market. With the increased competition for bids, the city, Heady said, could get a better deal with better terms. The city might also be able to contract with a more local company.

Changes to the city’s ordinance are set to come back to the council in August.

In other matters, the council moved forward efforts to place “No Shark Fishing” signs in city beach parks and to consider an ordinance permitting limited and regulated pet dining within city limits.

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