1/22/2010Tennessee City Defies State Legislature, Renews Traffic Cameras
Red Bank, Tennessee renews photo ticket contract for 12 years in defiance of legislative attempt at camera regulation.
The city of Red Bank, Tennessee voted Tuesday to extend its automated ticketing contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) for twelve years, in open defiance of the state legislature. Earlier this month, the House Transportation Committee gave its approval to proposed legislation that would place a temporary moratorium on red light camera and speed camera program renewals while a set of engineering and operational standards are developed to ensure statewide uniformity. The committee took great pains to ensure that no city would be deprived of any existing red light camera or photo radar revenue by refusing to ban any existing practices.
One of the mildly restrictive new standards that would take effect for contracts adopted after the year 2012 is a prohibition on the practice of rewarding a private contractor based on how many photo citations the company is able to issue. Red Bank's contract renewal dodge ensures that the city will continue to allow ATS to keep sixty-three percent of the ticket revenue generated until the year 2022. Cities prefer per-ticket compensation schemes because they provide a significant incentive for the vendor to maintain ticketing operations at peak levels. Since 2007, the speed cameras and red light cameras in Red Bank have generated $1.1 million in revenue.
Red Bank's action is far from unique. In 2009, a number of Texas cities extended contracts for up to twenty-five years in response to a legislative threat to sunset use of red light cameras in the state by forbidding renewal of any existing contracts. Ultimately, however, the legislation failed to pass and the cities ended up adopting the long-term contracts for no reason. In Montana, however, municipalities did not get away with contract extension defiance when the legislature began debating limitations on the use of cameras.
"We saw a couple municipalities rush to get contracts signed before the effective date of the bill -- which I found offensive," Montana state Senator John Brueggeman (R-Polson) said.
Montana legislators fired back by stripping the exceptions and enacting a total ban on all forms of photo enforcement. At least one Tennessee lawmaker predicted that cities would attempt to extend their contracts during the legislature's deliberations.
"People are going to try to get under what we are trying to do here, extending contracts say five, six, seven years," state Representative John Tidwell (D-New Johnsonville) said one week before Red Bank's action. "That certainly would be dirty pool."
A number of Tennessee legislators suggested the only legal option to deal with such defiance would be to impose a total ban on cameras, as happened in Montana. Before Red Bank's action, House Transportation Chairman Bill Harmon (D-Dunlap) said there were not enough votes in the legislature to impose such a ban.