Sunday, March 7, 2010

Montgomery County Planning Another Speed Camera Expansion

(updated 3/23/2010)
The Montgomery County Council wants to authorize the County Executive to add more speed cameras without the need for him to first get additional approval or hold public hearings.

In 2010 the Montgomery County Council voted to double the number of fixed pole speed cameras in use and wrote an estimated $29.3million in revenue into their Fiscal Year 2010 budget from traffic violations which were not yet committed (That amount was approximately 50% more than the $20million the cameras brought in for FY09, according to data from the county's proposed FY11 budget. In this budget document, camera revenues are stated to go into "County General Fund Revenues", not into a special fund reserved for "public safety" as county officials claim). However they now estimate that they will receive a total of only $17.2million by the end of the fiscal year in June. Montgomery County is facing an estimated $600million budget gap in FY2011, and have cited their "lost" camera revenue as one of the reasons for this. (Apparently previous years of excessive spending now coming home to roost had nothing to do with it. The council's vote back in 2008 to give county homeowners 4 years worth of property tax increases in a single year was insufficient to compensate for the problem).

The county claims the reason they "lost" $12million in camera revenue was because of a change in state law which permits "school zone cameras" to issue tickets only on weekends. There are already at least 212 camera sites in Montgomery County (combined fixed and mobile), 119 managed by the county and the remainder managed by municipalities (Chevy Chase, Takoma Park, Rockville, and Gaithersburg). 80% of these are designated as "residential speed cameras", meaning that unlike "school zone" cameras permitted in the rest of the state these cameras issue citations 24/7. So the reality is that only a small percentage of cameras had their hours of operation reduced by the change. The county council also voted on the FY10 budget in May 2009, a month after the change to state law was passed, so the impact if any was known at that time.

Under the bill, labeled 7-10, (see text of the bill here), the County Executive would be permitted to authorize any number of new speed cameras by executive order at any time (in order to fix such budget shortfalls). There would be no need to consult the council or the public. There would also be no need to obtain traffic studies to ensure that the speed limit was appropriate, or to determine what effect drivers slowing down to 10 mph at the new camera sites will have on traffic congestion (Montgomery County's Traffic Congestion is already the 4rth worst in the US. Wanna shoot for #1?). So next time there is an unexpected revenue shortfall, they need only approve an unlimited number of new mobile camera sites with no discussion or consideration.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing on March 23rd at 7:30pm.