Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hagerstown Resident Issued DC Red Light Ticket In Error

The Herald-Mail recently reported on a case of a Hagerstown resident who received a red light camera ticket from DC dated March 17, 2010. There were just two problem: she'd never been in DC in her life, and the car in the picture wasn't hers. The grainy image of the license plate looked similar to hers, but some of the characters were not readable.

Easy enough to fix right? She called the DC police who told her to send a picture of her car and a copy of her registration. She did so and received a response on April 5 saying they would investigate.... “It can take up to 6 months for a decision to be rendered” the response from DC stated. After getting nowhere for over a month the Herald-Mail contacted DC police on her behalf. Faced with the media getting involved, DC finally concluded that it 'might' not have been her car and stated that they would void the citation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Local Governments Write Speed Camera Revenues Into Budgets

Cities and Counties in Maryland are currently writing up their FY2011 budgets. Included in many of these are their estimates for speed camera revenues, with widely varying expectations... as well as varying degrees of creativity in addressing the constraints on that revenue.

Under current state law, local governments in Maryland are permitted to collect no more than 10% of their total budgets from speed camera fines "after expenses" -- in other words, if a city has a total budget of $10million they can collect $1million after expenses after all expenses for the program are paid -- with the remainder going to the state treasury. This money is required to be spent only on "public safety". However neither the term "public safety" nor the term "expense" is clearly spelled out, leaving a lot of wiggle room for any town or city which wish to get around those rules and maximize their revenue from this source.

New Carrollton wrote $750,000 of speed camera revenues into their budget, just under 10% of their total budget as coming from speed camera revenues, with the city's total budget increasing by 7.55%. Most of the speed camera money appears to be used to fund police department items, $237,917 for "employee services", 47,320 for "health and life insurance", 24,748 for "retirement pension". $60,550 of speed camera money is budgeted for general police budget items zeroed out of the general fund budget including telephones, uniforms, office supplies & printing, 'Dues & Subscriptions", "Travel & Meetings" "Public Official Liability & Bonding", and "small weapons".

Cheverly appears to be FAR more ambitious. The town wrote $2.8million worth of "fines and forfeitures" into their budget overview, compared to just $258,200 in last year's budget. The difference between the two ($2.55million) comprises about 36% of the town's total FY11 budget. No details were included in this budget overview, but the category "public safety" increased by $334,096, "Public Works" by $483,660, and "General Government" by $1,408,467. The town's budgeted total revenues increased by 58% from FY10 to FY11. Cheverly recently lowered the default speed limit in the town from 25mph to 20mph shortly after they approved the use of speed cameras. One council member's comments about speed camera revenues were recorded in the May 14, 2009 council meeting minutes as "CM Schachter will have questions about how creatively and expansive the Town could be in interpreting the law regarding the expenditure of these funds. Noted that it doesn't bother him one bit to make money to be used for additional public good. Can we lower speed limits around the schools? ". The town's first speed camera location was recently reported to be on the 2800 block of Cheverly Avenue.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Sykesville Residents Overturn Speed Cameras

On Tuesday May 4 2010 the town of Sykesville became the first municipality in Maryland to overturn speed cameras by a popular vote. The town council voted 5-1 for an ordinance authorizing speed cameras with the support of the town mayor. The measure was forced to a referendum when town resident Chris Martin and supporters collected signatures from over 15% of the town's residents in less than 20 days. Out of 529 votes cast, 321(60.6%) voted to repeal the ordinance.

The town government of Sykesville had approved 2 mass mailings to 'dispel disinformation' about the cameras and argue the council majority's position paid for with public funds. Petition supporters countered by deploying signs and hand distributing their own flier, paid for by Sykesville residents with private funds.

Photo Enforcement programs have consistently lost at the ballot box whenever voters have had the opportunity to decide on them directly. This result is contrary to polls typically publicized by governments supporting the cameras; for example the insurance industry back IIHS report in 2008 on Montgomery County's program claimed that 62% of residents support speed cameras. The Mayor of Sykesville had previously stated he believed town residents either supported the cameras or were evenly split. So far referendums have taken place for speed cameras and/or red light cameras in Sulphur Louisaiana, Chillicothe Ohio, Steubenville Ohio, Peoria Arizona, Batavia Illinois, Anchorage Alaska, Heath Ohio, College Station Texas, and Arlington Texas. In every case voters have decided against the cameras.

Montgomery County Safe Speed Also Missing Camera Logs

Earlier we reported that the City Of Gaithersburg did not have daily self test logs recorded every day for some of its cameras. It turns out that this is the case for some county-run cameras as well.

We have discovered that several cameras managed by Montgomery County (not just Gaithersburg) have similar gaps in the daily setup logs. Logs for 3 randomly selected cameras were requested via a public information act request, along with the number of citations issued on each day. The results showed that for each of the 12 camera/days the test was NOT performed on that day, in each case at least 2 days went by with no daily self test log. 9 of the 12 camera/days had citations being issued, with 1 report of 0 citations and 2 camera days where no response was provided (the reason for those 3 days is not know at this time)

27000 Ridge Road SB
Date Requested _ Date Set Up _ Date Shut Down _ #Citations Issued on Requested Day
11-28-2009 _____ 11/27/09 ____ 11/30/09 _______ 60
12-27-2009 _____ 12/23/09
____ 12/28/09 _______ 63
_____ 12/31/09 ____ 01/05/10 _______ 37
_____ 01/28/09 ____ 02/01/10 _______ 21

19600 Georgia Ave NB
Date Requested _ Date Set Up _ Date Shut Down _ #Citations Issued on Requested Day
11-28-2009 _____ 11/27/09 ____ 11/30/09 _______ 64
_____ 12/24/09 ____ 12/28/09 _______ 74
_____ 12/31/09 ____ 01/04/10 _______ 53
_____ 01/29/09 ____ 02/01/10 _______ 49

13600Darnestown Rd Wb
Date Requested _ Date Set Up _ Date Shut Down _ #Citations Issued on Requested Day
11-28-2009 _____ 11/27/09 ____ 11/30/09 _______ 52
_____ 12/24/09 ____ 12/28/09 _______ unknown
_____ 12/31/09 ____ 01/05/10 _______ unknown
_____ 01/29/09 ____ 02/01/10 _______ 0