County Council scrutinizes contract for additional speed and red-light cameras

The County Council spent nearly an hour on Tuesday, Jan. 10, questioning officials of the county executive's administration over a new contract that seeks to expand the county's speed camera program.

"We all had a lot of questions," said 5th District Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson. "Rarely does an issue require an hour of the county council's time, but there were questions we wanted answered."

As proposed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, the new contract takes advantage of a January 2011 bill that lifts the cap on the number of speed cameras in Baltimore County.

Included in the new contract is the addition of seven new red light cameras and seven new speed cameras to the county's current stable of eight red light cameras and 15 speed cameras.

Over the duration of the contract, an additional 18 cameras can be added on top of the 14 that will be added in the next five months.

That the new deal made fiscal sense was most important to 3rd District Councilman Todd Huff, who represents Cockeysville and the northern part of the county.

Huff grilled Baltimore County Director of Budget and Finance Keith Dorsey, who spoke at the work session, on the specifics of the deal, saying he wanted to make sure that the deal didn't place any financial burden on the taxpayer.

Huff aimed to examine the "feasibility for the constituents," and stressed that the burden of the program should not be on taxpayers that aren't getting issued tickets.

"To me, it sounds like that's the avenue they took," Huff said.

He conceded that he wasn't 100-percent convinced about the program, but acknowledged "they worked toward that to where it will not cost the taxpayers any money."

Huff said that under the last contract, the program was not self-sustaining and ended up costing the county $147,000.

"I don't want to see that," Huff said. "If there's a violator that gets the ticket, they pay the ticket and it pays for the cameras and all the equipment and all that — that's fine. I don't want somebody who's not getting a ticket to have to finance it."

Under the county's initial contract with ACS State and Local Solutions, as much as 90 percent of the revenue collected for the tickets went to the camera company.

At the council's urging, the county negotiated a new deal. According to Dorsey, the five-year pact will cost the county $6 million, with two automatic one-year extensions kicking in after the initial five years.

But instead of a flat rate paid to ACS, the new contract will pay ACS between 42 and 45 percent of each ticket collected.

A red light violation comes with a $75 fine, while drivers caught going over 12 miles per hour over the speed limit in school zones are fined $45.

Marks said that a lot of his questions were answered at the work session, but he's still unsure of how he'll vote when the issue comes before the council at its next meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 17.

"I voted against the speed camera law, but there's a difference between the law and the contract, which is a fiscal issue," Marks said. "I do think the contract is far better for the taxpayers of Baltimore County than the current contract.

"Ultimately, I'm going to vote based on whether it's a good contract for the taxpayers of Baltimore County," he said, "and whether it's sustainable."

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