Cary ends red-light camera program

Council votes unanimously to end program contract

akenney@newsobserver.comAugust 9, 2012 

— With little fanfare, Cary officials axed one of the state’s last red-light photo enforcement systems on Thursday night. The motion to discontinue the town’s SafeLight program drew no comment from the Cary Town Council.

“A motion, and a second … discussion?” said Mayor Harold Weinbrecht as the council reviewed a slate of consent items. Then: “Motion carries unanimously.”

The town will continue to issue citations for up to two weeks as it voids its contract with Redflex, the Australia-based company that administers camera systems across the world.

Cary isn’t the only client to end a program, either: The city of Globe, Ariz. ended its Redflex contract in July. And general resistance to the idea of photo enforcement has spawned online critiques, such as FireRedflex.com and CameraFRAUD.com.

Cary’s exit leaves only three municipal photo-enforcement systems in North Carolina – Raleigh, Knightdale and Wilmington use similar systems.

Cary’s manager, Ben Shivar, recommended last month that the town tear down the 8-year-old system. In an official report, he wrote that the system was a drain on staff time, and that state laws increasingly restricted uses of such systems.

Shivar also reported that the town had installed improvements that fulfilled the system’s original safety-related goals. Additionally, the system, which covers 15 intersections, drew public criticism for inaccuracy this year.

Separately, the cameras were relevant to a class-action lawsuit against the town that alleges the town’s traffic signals didn’t allow enough time for braking. (Among other defenses, Cary contends that it based the timing on federal standards.)

Among the Cary council members, the consensus was that the camera system gave too much money to Redflex and not enough to local schools, and that it brought more trouble than it was worth.

Over the years, Redflex has collected 88 percent of revenues from the $50-a-pop tickets. Cary has kept 2 percent for administrative costs, and the rest has gone to the Wake County Public School Systems.

“It’s a racket. Redflex reaps all the financial benefit, schools get very little,” said Councilman Don Frantz.

The state Court of Appeals expressed that idea in 2006, when it ruled that High Point gave too much to a private contractor, while the state constitution requires all clear proceeds go to local schools. Cary and other governments’ systems were protected by special legislation first written in 2001.

Eventually, Cary will have its cameras removed. What will it do with them?

“I hope,” Frantz said, “that we can put the darn things on eBay.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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