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Petition against Port Lavaca red light cameras is a go

By by Dianna Wray
Dec. 8, 2010 at 6:08 a.m.

Carl Baugh stands in front of the intersection at Interstate 35 and Half League Road holding a citation he received for running a stop light there a year ago. The citation was sent to him by Redflex, the company that operates the five red-light cameras in the city. Baugh contested the citation and won. He is now getting together a petition to call for a vote on whether to keep the cameras.

DID YOU KNOW?Houston citizens voted to remove the red-light cameras in the city in a Nov. 2 referendum. The move is now being contested in court, as the city and the company contracted to run the cameras sue each other.

PORT LAVACA - In Port Lavaca, the red-light camera issue is heating up again, as a citizen gets ready to submit a petition asking the city council to schedule a vote removing the cameras.

In December 2009, the brakes on Carl Baugh's car locked up, forcing him to slide through the intersection. The incident was caught on camera.

In January 2009, five cameras approved by the Port Lavaca City Council were installed at three different intersections deemed to be the busiest in the town.

The cameras, pointed to catch the flow of traffic were programmed to capture the speed and film and photograph a vehicle if it ran a red light at the intersection.

Civil penalties may be imposed on citizens who run the light or fail to make a full stop before a red-light right-turn.

Baugh received a $75 citation in the mail. He was surprised to find that he would have to go to Harlingen, a four-hour drive, to appeal the ticket.

This got Baugh interested in the issue of red light cameras. After refusing to pay his ticket - it's a civil citation - Baugh started a Facebook page PL Citizens Against Red-Light Cameras.

Since then, Baugh has been collecting signatures to put red-light cameras to a vote.

He has collected more than 300 signatures, and plans to submit the petition to the city by the end of December, Baugh said.

"It's just a big money grab. There's been a lot of money made off of these cameras," Baugh said.

Port Lavaca Police Chief John Stewart disagrees. Stewart says safety is the main issue.

"I'd be happy if these cameras didn't make a dime because that would mean no one is running any red lights," Stewart said.

The red-light cameras were presented as a possibility after an intersection fatality, Stewart said.

The company Redflex approached the city council about installing some cameras, and after reviewing the study, the council voted to accept them.

Redflex did a study and recommended cameras be set up at Half League Road and State Highway 35, Smith Road and State Highway 35 and Travis Street and State Highway 35.

Each citation is reviewed by an officer, Stewart said. Drivers who think they don't deserve the ticket can appeal it to the police, Stewart said.

Stewart admits to having been ambivalent about the cameras when he first learned about them.

"When we were originally directed to get the red-light cameras, I had no idea if it was good, bad or whatever, but we've recognized that there's fewer accidents with these cameras in place," Stewart said.

The numbers the city provided compared January-June of each year. During 2009, 5,540 red-light citations were issued. This year that number dropped to 2,790 citations, a sign, Stewart said, that fewer drivers are running red lights.

Redflex makes $5,000 per camera for a total of $25,000 per month. The fines collected for the calendar year 2009 amounted to $278,840, with the city taking $49,493 in profit after paying Redflex $172,220 and paying other assorted costs. Red-light tickets fines collected this calendar year have pulled in $392,505, Stewart said. Again, the city will get less than $50,000 in profit from the cameras, after Redflex collected $192,220..

The contract is set up so that if the city doesn't make money from the cameras - because people aren't running red lights - then Redflex doesn't get paid, city manager Bob Turner said.

Having a camera to monitor this type of traffic frees up officers to work on other areas of law enforcement, Stewart said.

Stewart said he and the other officers have been impressed with the results.

"We're getting better compliance. Folks aren't running red lights like they used to," Stewart said.

Still, Stewart said there's a simple solution to the cameras.

Now, Baugh said he plans to submit the petition to put the question of the cameras to a vote.

The money being taken out of the county could be better used here, Baugh said.

"It would be better to see that money spent in the county rather than sending it out of the state and out of the country," Baugh said.

Baugh says he's optimistic about getting the issue voted on.

"It'll be up to the council whether it gets on the docket or not, but I think it will," Baugh said.

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