Lakeland to Settle in Red-Light Camera Lawsuit

Oct 3, 2011

The following article was published in the Lakeland Ledger on October 3, 2011:

Lakeland to settle in red-light lawsuit

By Chase Purdy

Lakeland city commissioners voted unanimously Monday to pay $667,965 to settle a class action lawsuit over the city’s controversial red-light cameras.

Filed in 2009, the lawsuit covers people who received red-light camera tickets in Lakeland before July 1, 2010. City officials said they’ve counted 32,092 tickets total, each one running between $125 and $250 dollars.

The settlement will refund part of the money paid by motorists who were cited before July 2010.

The July 2010 cut-off date came about after the state Legislature passed a law that requires localities to pass on some of the revenue from citations to the state coffer.

Monday’s vote followed a brief discussion among commissioners, who were advised by City Attorney Tim McCausland to avoid speaking about the “hotly contested” issue at the commission meeting.

“The city is an attractive target, and we litigate a lot,” McCausland said after the meeting. “Those are matters to be decided in court. In a public forum like that, people make comments that they may not fully understand.”

The settlement, the result of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the cameras, now must be approved by a judge.

If approved, McCausland said, the court will direct a third party, Rust Consulting, to do “due diligence” in seeking and alerting those eligible for inclusion in the settlement. The city will pay $667,965 while Arizona-based ATS, the camera provider, will pay $203,433.

In the aftermath of the change in the law by the Legislature, cities around Florida are continuing to adopt red-light camera programs.

Lakeland still uses its nine red-light cameras that are set up around the city, the most lucrative one at Memorial Boulevard and North Florida Avenue.

Under the original city ordinance, Lakeland and ATS split the ticket revenue using a formula that earned the city $95 per citation.

The city’s contract with ATS is set to end in about a year, at which point commissioners will reconsider the future of the program.

Commissioner Justin Troller said he likely would vote against a measure to extend the relationship.

“I originally supported the red-light cameras because they said it would reduce the number of accidents,” Troller said. “Over time, it has turned into ‘This camera isn’t making enough money, so we may have to move it to make up for it’s cost.’?”

Troller said the emphasis on money, as well as the funneling of citation revenues to non-public-safety ventures, is a far cry from his original hope for the program.

A study published in June by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reflected a minority of people surveyed in 14 large cities dislike red-light cameras outright.

About two-thirds of drivers strongly favor the systems, while 18 percent strongly oppose them, the report shows. Some who objected did so because of invasion-of-­privacy concerns, many others for camera inaccuracies.

The argument remains a hot topic, one in which studies can vary widely. A 2005 report by the U.S. Department of Transportation, for example, asserted the cameras increase the risk of rear-end collisions.

For Troller, re-supporting the program in Lakeland depends entirely on where the money will go — and he doesn’t anticipate finding much consensus.

“I support the settlement, let’s move on,” Troller said. “But I’m in no way for sustaining the program.”

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