6/11/2008Budget Bonanza from Maryland Speed Cameras
Chevy Chase, Maryland uses speed camera revenue to double its annual budget.
A Maryland town is finding that having one of the nation's cheapest photo enforcement violation notices is the ticket to financial success. Last October, Chevy Chase gave Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) the green light to issue $40 speeding citations on high-volume commuter roads like Connecticut Avenue. ACS gets to keep $16.25 for each citation it is able to issue while the village pockets the remainder. Because of the ticket volume, Chevy Chase was forced earlier this year to create a separate "Safe Speed" budget to disguise the windfall. Without the change, the village would have been in the position of explaining how a $4 million annual budget nearly doubled into a $7.5 million budget.
"After approximately seven months' worth of operation, the revenue from speed cameras has netted the village approximately $800,000," Village Manager Geoffrey B. Biddle explained in an April board meeting. "We are routinely bringing in approximately a quarter million dollars per month and we expect that to carry forward for at least the next twelve, fifteen months."
Although automated ticket volumes are generally lower in most jurisdictions in Arizona, California and Illinois, ticket prices are substantially higher, running from $200 to $1000 each. ACS found it could set up cameras in Chevy Chase where the speed limit was posted so far below the actual traffic speed that the cheaper ticket was more effective as drivers found it not worth the time to mount a court challenge. On its first two days of operation, ACS succeeded in mailing tickets to one out of every six cars on Connecticut Avenue, raising $141,320 for the program's debut. The $40 rate is set by a state law that also mandates that profit from the program be directed solely toward public safety projects. Village Board Member Robert L. Jones explained how he intended to put this money to use.
"Brookville Road, putting in new streetlights; the Connecticut Avenue projects, beautification improvements, the new sidewalks," Jones said. "All things you've heard about before are pulled together, and with some numbers with them, with the idea that we'll get a little bit more clarity and the mandate of the board to move forward in getting approval on using speed camera money for it."
The village manager and board agreed to drop the idea of asking the state attorney general whether such use of the speed camera funds might violate state law. Overall, the financial picture is bright for Chevy Chase where the median household income for residents is $200,000.
"The village now has cash reserves in its general funds that are over $3 million, which is a very handsome figure," Budget Committee Chairman Samuel Lawrence said.