Tempe lets photo enforcement contract expire in payment dispute - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

Tempe lets photo enforcement contract expire in payment dispute

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Posted: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 4:05 pm | Updated: 2:41 pm, Thu Jul 14, 2011.

Tempe is halting its photo enforcement cameras in the wake of a lawsuit claiming the city shortchanged the operator by $1.3 million.

The cameras will stop taking pictures of speeders at the end of Monday.

Tempe is letting its contract with Redflex Traffic Solution expire as it approaches a deadline on a one-year renewal of the program. The City Council discussed but rejected a shorter extension to see whether it could resolve the legal issues without having a lapse in service.

“I don’t believe in extending a contract to a company that is currently suing us over that contract,” Councilwoman Shanna Ellis said.

The dispute’s outcome could substantially change photo radar’s impact on taxpayers — and whether the city deems it economical to resume the practice.

Tempe says it lost about $15,000 last year on photo enforcement after paying Redflex’s fees and covering staff costs. If Tempe paid the disputed $1.3 million, the city would likely have lost more than $400,000 per year in each of the last three years of its contract. The city says it tries to set fines based on its costs so that photo enforcement is financially neutral and keeps its focus on reducing collisions.

City Manager Charlie Meyer said the dispute prevents him from addressing the financial implications if Tempe paid additional fees.

“It’s really awkward for me to talk about the specifics of a lawsuit so I really can’t do that,” he said.

The Council will discuss photo enforcement’s future on Aug. 18. The discussion will include looking at accident rates to determine whether the cameras have improved safety. The city’s statistics show accidents have fallen three years in a row in areas near the cameras. Citywide collisions were down two years in a row and then stabilized.

Councilman Corey Woods said the Council needs to study whether the cameras resulted in those drops.

He said he has philosophical issues with photo radar and with Redflex’s marketing. He objects to video loops the company uses at events that show graphic collisions taped by cameras.

“What they’re saying is the implementation of cameras will stop people from creating these gruesome scenes,” Woods said. “I find the video personally to be highly inappropriate and distasteful.”

Redflex has operated 10 fixed-location cameras and two vans for four years.

Tempe had proposed a three-month extension on the contract to keep the cameras operating while it tried to work through the dispute with Redflex. Mayor Hugh Hallman suggested a one-month extension but that failed in a 4-3 vote. Hallman’s proposal was supported by Vice Mayor Joel Navarro and Robin Arredondo-Savage, but Woods, Shana Ellis, Robin Arredondo-Savage and Mark Mitchell opposed an extension.

Redflex sued Tempe Dec. 10, claiming the city informed Redflex that it had not paid the company a portion of fines charged to drivers who attended traffic school. The city claimed it doesn’t have to pay the fee of $35.50 per for fixed-camera citations and $37.50 for mobile cameras, the suit states.

About 31 percent of citations issued are resolved by that driver paying a fine. The city does not have statistics breaking down how many drivers resolved the violation by going to traffic school or how many failed to pay the ticket and eventually had it dismissed.

Tempe will gather that information and other statistics, Meyer said.

The camera equipment could remain after being turned off. Redflex owns the equipment and the company may wish to keep it in place in the event it were to successfully bid on another contract. If the city decides to seek bids, it would take months for the process to play out and for existing or new cameras to begin snapping photos again, Meyer said.

He said Tempe will consider having the cameras taken out.

“We are broaching that topic with Redflex,” he said.

Redflex spokesman Tom Herrmann said the company isn’t commenting on the lawsuit or the contract’s expiration. “It’s our hope that we’ll be able to get back to work in Tempe and work on improving public safety at the intersections in Tempe,” he said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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