Friday, June 22, 2012

Morningside Balances Budget with Scamera Funds

The town of Morningside (Prince George's County) has used the $642,000 it has earned from its speed camera program to replace declining property tax revenues.  Morningside increased its annual spending from $1.6million to $1.7million despite seeing property tax revenues drop from $813,000 to $566,000 due to declining property values, leaving the town with a $600,000 surplus.

State law permits local government to collect revenues of up to 10% of their total revenue, after expenses of the program.  However a few jurisdictions have retained an amount several times greater than 10% of their non-speed camera revenues by using "creative math".  For example, in Chevy Chase Village, routine town expenses were instead designated as expenses of the program (exempting that amount from counting towards the 10%).  The town of Forest Heights retained an amount equal to 30% of their prior year budget in FY11 and FY2012 .  Another commonly claimed restriction that camera funds be used on 'public safety' has also been rendered irrelevant, since the definition of that term is left entirely up to the jurisdiction and because camera money can supplant existing expenditures.  This means it is not actually necessary that any additional money be spent on genuine 'public safety' improvements, and for practical purposes speed camera revenues can in fact be used to significantly increase non-safety related expenditures.  Few if any jurisdictions have invested speed camera funds into actual traffic engineering improvements designed to actually combat speeding, despite claims that reducing speeding is the primary purpose of the program.

The town of Morningside's Red Light Camera Program was involved in a scandal when an investigation by state police found evidence that council woman Regina Foster inappropriately voiding red light running tickets issued to herself and others, tickets which most residents of the town would have been obligated to pay.  Councilwoman Foster resigned over the allegations in February 2011.  However the Prince George's County Attorney declined to pursue the matter, and Foster got her seat back when she edged out her opponent by two votes in the town's May 2012 elections.

Morningside started their speed camera program in 2011 under a contract with Brekford Corp. As Brekford Corp in a 2011 press release:"As municipalities search for additional revenue streams, Brekford’s Automated Traffic Enforcement and Automatic Traffic Safety Solutions presents an attractive opportunity amongst its multiple products.  Brekford’s new division focused on Automated Traffic Enforcement is attractive to municipalities searching for additional revenue."