Monday, July 22, 2013

Municipalities Budget For Cameras Fines

Having successfully "dodged a bullet" by avoiding speed camera reforms which might have slightly cut into profits, numerous municipalities have written substantial speed camera revenues into their budgets with some planning on increasing fines issued.

The City of Gaitherburg's FY14 budget increases planned photo radar revenue from $2,500,000 in FY13 to $3,300,000, a 32% increase.

Hagerstown plans to bring in $1,557,000 in speed camera fines next year, a 13% increase over their camera revenues from last year.

The City of Frederick, fell short of their goal of $900,000 in speed camera revenue in FY2013, but nevertheless are budgeting to increase this amount to $1million.

Riverdale Park also fell short of the $550,000 they had planned to bring in for FY13, but still have written $550,000 in speed camera revenues into their FY14 budget.... 7.6% of the city's total budget.

Rockville is budgeting to collect $2million in speed camera fines in FY14, about the same as last year.  However they are additionally planning to bring in $1,800,000 from their red light camera program, which began ticketing for slow moving right turns (often from a right turn lane) last year.  Last year the city's red light camera revenues jumped from $830,000 in FY12 to $1,800,000.  Despite an ENORMOUS INCREASE in the number of red light camera violations being issued at each of their red light cameras where the new right turn cameras had been deployed, the city police described locations as having experienced a "50% drop" in red light camera citations.  For example, the city told Patch in May 2013 that a red light camera located on Gude Road at Gaither road saw a 50% drop in citations, when in fact the number of citations issued by this location in Jan-Feb of 2013 was approximately SEVEN TIMES as many as the city issued at that location in the same three months of both 2011 and 2012.  The Patch article made no mention of the fact that most of the increase was due to ticketing for right turns rather than what people usually consider to be 'red light running'.

Chevy Chase Village has seen a decrease in revenues from the heady days when over a third of their budget came from speed camera fines, but still has budgeted for $1,350,000 in speed camera revenues this year plus $150,000 in 'speed camera collections' and $5000 in interest on their large reserve of camera fines.... for a total of $1,505,000 or 28% of the city's $5.37 million budget.

The Town of Forest Heights plans to bring in $628,000 in speed camera fines and $100,000 in 'speed camera fund collections' for a total of $728,000 in camera revenue.  This is a decrease in the over $800,000 in revenues they collected in FY2013, according to the 4rth quarter budget audit, but still 18% of the 2000-resident town's $4million revenues.

College Park is planning to bring in a total of $1,500,000 in FY2014, of which about $585,000 will be paid to their contractor (Optotraffic) who receives a 39% cut of each citation.  If this amount is met it would be an increase over the $1,154,556 in actual revenues College Park collected in FY13.  The city's budget includes only one "Effectiveness measure" for the program, which is "Percent of citations enforcement camera processed within established guidelines" and which they claim to be 100% effective at.  College Park's total revenues from all sources is $14.65million.

Speed Camera fines are nominally required to be spent only on "public safety'.  However this term is undefined under state law and local governments are not banned from displacing general fund revenues with speed camera fines on existing operating expenses.  This means that for practical purposes, this constraint may have little or no effect on how much money is actually spent on what most people think is a "public safety" expense or how much is spent on material traffic safety improvements.  For example last year Morningside Maryland boasted how it was using $600,000 in speed camera revenues to replace falling local tax revenues.  Local governments have also demonstrated some flexibility in determining what constitutes an 'expense' of a speed camera program.  For example some jurisdictions such as Chevy Chase in the past have designated existing police officers to be 'expenses' of their program and helping them avoid limits on how much revenues they can keep.