Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Morningside Deployed Cameras Despite County Denial

Documents provided to the Maryland Drivers Alliance show that The Town of Morningside deployed speed cameras on a road maintained by Prince George's County without having received authorization from the county, and despite the county's explicit denial of permission for the town to do so.

The town wrote Prince George's County a letter on July 25, stating that they had created new school zones for the purpose of deploying speed cameras, including in locations on county roads, and that they were "notifying" the county of their intent to deploy the cameras on county roads.

The county responded with a letter dated Sept 23, 2011:
"I am in receipt of your July 25, 2011 letter in which you requested permission to install speed monitoring devices on Suitland Road between Allentown Road and Suitland Parkway." wrote Dr Haitham Hijaz, Director of Prince George's County DPWT "We certainly applaud the Town of Morningside's concern for pedestrian and bicycle safety; however permission to install the speed monitoring devices along this roadway cannot be approved.  Prince George's County is in the process of implementing our County-wide Automated Speed Enforcement Program, which includes certified school zones sites located on County-maintained arterial and collector roadways. As such, Suitland Road is an identified site and is included in the County's Program for placement of speed monitoring systems. "

The county then went on to describe the requirements which the town should follow, such as performing a traffic study, if it nevertheless wished to try to obtain a permit to deploy cameras on a county road.

On October 15, Morningside Police Chief Mills (who is no longer with the department) wrote a defiant reply.  Mills claimed the county did not respond to their request within 60 days, and that the county did not show any statutory basis for denying the request. The letter stated that the town had already contracted with Brekford, a company which Morningside claims has "previously received acceptance by the State Highway Administration for it's speed monitoring systems" (The SHA does not certify speed cameras nor does it use speed cameras provided by Brekford.)

Morningside currently deploys speed cameras on Suitland road, a county road, despite never having received any formal authorization from the town.  It is unclear whether the town even has authority to designate a school zone on a county road which does not directly border the school, or to place the required signs without the county DPWT's consent.

If cameras are deployed by the county, rather than by a town government, then all revenues would go to the county treasury rather than the municipality. In 2010 the legislature wrote a specific provision into the law establishing a procedure by which Prince George's County, and only Prince George's County, would determine whether the county or the municipality had jurisdiction to deploy cameras in a particular location.

Morningside and Brekford Corp collected a total of $612,647 worth of speed camera fines between July 1 2011 and June 30 2012, compared to total revenues of $2.2million from all sources, according to records from the comptroller's office (the town's SMS-1 form was dated March 25, 2013, despite a statement on the comptroller's website that the form "is due on the 30th day of September following the fiscal year in which the Speed Monitoring Fines were collected"). The town budgeted in 2012 to use camera revenue to replace falling property tax revenues, and one councilwoman even boasted during her campaign that "I love the speed cameras [installed last year] and the great opportunities their revenue provide to do things for the community.

The Maryland Drivers Alliance has been closely examining the town's speed camera program after they failed to respond to a Maryland Public Information Act request for speed camera calibration records within the 30 day time period required by state law.  When the town eventually responded, they denied the request for calibration records.