12/21/2011Traffic Camera Company Demands $600,000 From Florida County
Red light camera firm sends Manatee County, Florida a bill for $603,344 for daring to terminate ticketing program.
Increasingly desperate red light camera firms are taking advantage of strict contractual language in an attempt to prevent local governments from dumping their ticketing programs. Manatee County, Florida grew disenchanted with automated ticketing after signing a contract with Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), but the firm will not let the county government unplug the cameras unless it is paid $603,344.38. County commissioners yesterday moved to ignore the threat and drop the contract.
ACS had installed cameras at three intersections and started work on a fourth when the state legislature enacted a law authorizing the use of red light cameras under a number of specific restrictions. The statute took effect in July 2010 and banned the practice of paying photo enforcement vendors on a per-ticket basis. Manatee's contract specified that ACS should be paid $36.50 for each ticket the company issued. The state also took a significant cut of the fine revenue, leaving it unlikely Manatee's photo ticketing program would turn a profit. ACS and the county went back and forth for a year, unable to agree on revised terms.
"Because of the delay in implementation created by the county, ACS continues to incur substantial expense without any compensation for its investment," ACS corporate counsel James Haddow, Jr wrote to the Public Works Department on November 29. "ACS therefore considers the county to be in breach of the contract."
The county denies it breached the contract and insisted the change in law is covered by the force majeure clause that absolves both parties in the event of a law being passed "beyond the control and without the fault or negligence" of either side that prevents execution of the agreement. The county explained how the private contractor is responsible for every aspect of the red light camera program.
"The services to be performed by ACS under the agreement included, but were not limited to: installing, reviewing, maintaining, operating, repairing and replacing camera systems and related detection equipment; engineering and conducting site analysis of intersections; locating underground facilities; designing, installing, maintaining, operating, repairing and replacing communication linkages, field and office equipment; keeping maintenance logs; posting signs; monitoring cameras for violations; processing citations and collections; issuing written warnings; printing, preparing and mailing notices for violations; collecting and depositing payments; referring unpaid citations to collection agency; accounting and keeping records of revenues and expenses; coordinating hearings of citations; receiving appeal requests; scheduling appeal hearings; preparing documentary evidence and background information; maintaining chain of evidence; providing factual and expert witness testimony; training personnel; preparing training manuals; providing customer service; responding to public inquiries; developing public awareness and education campaign; printing information pamphlets, brochures and other materials; assisting with media relations; providing public service announcements and written copy; compiling an printing statistical reports; paying for initial equipment, start-up and maintenance costs, electrical service, as well as applicable taxes," wrote County Attorney Tedd N. Williams, Jr. in a letter to ACS dated December 20.
Because the cameras are now "financially infeasible," commissioners moved to cut off further negotiation with ACS and wait to see whether the state legislature bans cameras in the next session.