Red Bank leaders divided on cameras

Red Bank leaders divided on cameras

November 20th, 2010 by Chris Carroll in News

Staff photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Nov 16, 2010 Former Red Bank mayor Joe Glasscock holds a up sign he took from an intersection concerning the city's traffic cameras during his last meeting as mayor on Tuesday. City Manager Chris Dorsey, left, City Attorney Arnold Stulce, Jr. and new mayor Monty Millard look at the sign. The city recently signed a 12-year contract extension in January.

Red Bank Mayor Monty Millard would love to take down the city's traffic cameras, but transforming a message into policy is more complicated than saying you want it done -- and almost assuredly more expensive.

Three minutes into his inaugural speech Tuesday evening, Millard was playing familiar political tunes, focusing on "our city's positive assets" and praising "a very favorable property tax rate."

Then, the loud note that got people's attention.

"Tonight I am asking [City Manager] Chris Dorsey to determine our option for the immediate removal of the red-light cameras and the speed van," he said, pausing for applause that never came. "This will send a strong and unmistakable message that we want people to come to and through our city."

In January, Millard was the only commissioner out of five to vote against a 12-year contract extension with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based company that supplies Red Bank's traffic cameras. He's aware of the constitutional arguments, but he said he cringes when he hears out-of-towners and "talk radio" blasting the city's most controversial piece of technology.

"I feel more strongly about our business owners who live and die by the success they have in Red Bank," Millard said. "It's killing us."

According to the deal between Red Bank and American Traffic, either party can abandon the contract without financial penalty on each three-year anniversary of its signing -- 2013, 2016, 2019 or 2022.

But officials close to the deal said Red Bank may face a stiff fee if the city pulls out any earlier.

American Traffic representatives wouldn't say what the fee might be, and Red Bank officials said they don't know what it is either. As the deal stands, the company gets between 45 percent and 63 percent of the monthly revenues, depending on how many tickets are collected.

During the 2008-09 fiscal year, Red Bank collected more than $579,000 from the cameras, and $357,070 went to American Traffic Solutions. Most of the remaining $222,105 funded four city traffic employees and also helped prop up the city budget.

The final figure for straight "camera revenue" was $32,898, according to Dorsey.

The contract stipulates dispute resolution or litigation in a Hamilton County court in the event of a disagreement.

After his inaugural speech, Millard showed a limited knowledge of the contract and said "someone else" besides Dorsey told him the city could leave it.

"I don't know how much it would cost to break that contract," Millard said.

At least one commissioner doesn't think Millard is making any financial sense.

"Whatever we have to pay the camera company will be expensive and, without the camera revenue, we're going to have to have a tax increase," Commissioner Ruth Jeno said. "I don't know what Monty was doing, and I don't think he did, either."

Red Bank used $172,724 from its reserve funds to balance this year's budget without a tax increase.

Commissioners will discuss their options during a Dec. 7 agenda session, and an American Traffic Solutions representative may be present, city officials said.

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.

SQUARE-OFF OVER CAMERAS

Red Bank's governing board is divided on traffic cameras, with two supporting surveillance and two citing "negative publicity" from the cameras. Commissioner Floy Pierce voted for a 12-year extension, but recently showed signs of hedging.

Pro-camera

* Commissioner Ruth Jeno

"I'm not saying they don't hurt some businesses, but 98 percent of the people I talk to are 100 percent behind the cameras."

* Vice Mayor Greg Jones

"I stand by my vote. If my family is safer at those intersections, I think that's still a positive thing."

Swing vote

* Commissioner Floy Pierce

"I feel like if it's going to hurt our city and our citizens in a way that would keep revenues out, my strong feeling is that it needs to be revisited."

Anti-camera

* Mayor Monty Millard

"If it was such a great deal, why don't Signal Mountain, East Ridge and Collegedale have them? They want people to shop in their businesses and feel comfortable coming into their town."

* Commissioner John Roberts

"If they just put a vacant car with a dummy in there, I guarantee people would stop and slow down at a red light."

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