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Florida County to Seize Homes with Red Light Cameras
Sarasota County, Florida hopes to seize homes from the owners of vehicles accused of not paying a red light camera ticket.

Sarasota County Commissioners
The Sarasota County, Florida Board of Commissioners unanimously voted on Tuesday to move forward on a proposed ordinance authorizing the seizure of the home belonging to anyone accused of not paying a red light camera ticket. The commissioners must now hold another public hearing and vote on the issue before beginning the process of installing the cameras.

"Failure to pay any amounts provided for under this article may result in the filing of a lien against the property of the registered owner," the proposed red light camera ordinance states. "Such lien shall be subject to foreclosure as provided by law."

In discussing the plan Tuesday, county officials made clear that ignoring a single ticket dropped in the mail by a for-profit contractor could trigger the lien. A "special master," not a judge, would then use code enforcement powers to foreclose on the home belonging to the registered owner of the vehicle if no response is received after a notice is mailed to his last known address. The foreclosure would take place regardless of whether the homeowner was even behind the wheel when the alleged offense occurred. Some of the commissioners expressed reservations about this aspect of the plan.

"So the city of Sarasota, and I guess a lot of other cities, if you get a bunch of parking tickets, they lock up your car -- they don't put a lien on your home," Commissioner Nora Patterson said. "This is pretty drastic."

Patterson ultimately voted for the ordinance but wanted clarification from Assistant County Attorney Karl Senkow as to how those who do not own their residence might be treated under the proposal.

"If there's no real property to put a lien on, there's the potential of personal property," Senkow said with a shrug. "I think there's a cost-benefit analysis as to how much effort you put into that."

Like several other Florida communities, Sarasota County intends to install red light cameras even though the state legislature has refused to authorize their use. Without the ability to suspend drivers' licenses and registrations -- which would require state support -- county officials saw home seizure as the only realistic means of convincing residents to pay up. With $2.25 million in annual revenue expected from 18,000 citations, the county wanted to take no chances with non-payment.

But the county is risking legal challenge. Both the state attorney general (view ruling) and Florida Department of Transportation (view ruling) have ruled that photo ticketing is illegal in Florida. The largest photo enforcement vendor in the US even took a swipe at its competitor, American Traffic Systems, for operating cameras in violation of the law.

"Legal opinions indicate that automated enforcement in the state of Florida remains illegal," Redflex said in a statement to Australian investors this week (view statement). "Some competitors have proceeded at risk with early programs."

Although drastic, similar ordinances have been considered in Florida and other states. The city of Brooksville, for example, attempted to implement an ordinance that would have authorized home foreclosures over $5 parking tickets. Earlier this month, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin foreclosed on the $245,000 home of resident Peter Tubic, 62, because the man, who suffers mental limitations, failed to pay a $50 ticket he received for parking his own run-down van in his own driveway. Only after the story became national news did a top city official claim he would put a stop to the seizure.

A full copy of the proposed Sarasota County ordinance is available in a 55k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Ordinance No. 2008-081 (Sarasota County, Florida, 8/26/2008)

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