February 23, 2014 in City

Spokane City Council debating changing red-light camera law

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Proposed change

City law currently says that revenue from red-light cameras beyond the cost of the camera program must be spent on traffic calming projects.

According to municipal code:

“There is established a special revenue fund to be known as the ‘Traffic Calming Measures Fund’ into which shall be deposited funds from automated traffic safety camera infractions in excess of the direct administrative costs of the automated traffic safety camera program. The fund will be used to pay for traffic calming projects.”

City is proposing to change the last sentence to say:

“The fund will be used to pay for traffic calming measures or any other municipal purpose as authorized by the City Council.”

The Spokane City Council is debating whether to change the law to allow them to do what they’ve already authorized: spend red-light camera fines on projects unrelated to traffic safety.

The council already approved a new funding breakdown of red-light camera money for 2014, but the city never changed the law that requires them to spend revenues beyond the cost to maintain the cameras only on traffic safety projects.

Early next month, the council is scheduled to consider changing the law to give them flexibility on how the camera money is spent.

Councilman Steve Salvatori said the change to the law is “just a cleanup.” The council voted unanimously last year to spend some camera money on the city’s volunteer police program and on anti-graffiti efforts. Councilman Mike Allen said there’s enough revenue from camera tickets to fund traffic safety as well as other important programs.

But Candace Mumm, who joined the council in January, said she’s skeptical about using the money on programs unrelated to traffic safety. She said last week she is undecided about the proposed change to the law.

“I feel strongly about the traffic calming issue,” Mumm said. “I want to make sure we put as much money toward that as possible.”

Last year, the city raised $1.5 million in fines from camera tickets. Of that, the city paid $631,000 to American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona company that runs the program. The rest was the city’s to keep. About $164,000 was used to pay the salary and benefits of the police officer who runs the program, and for street and other costs associated with the program. The rest, nearly $700,000, was earmarked for traffic safety projects.

Since the program started in 2008, the money has paid for crosswalks, bike lanes, traffic studies, sidewalks, signs that show the speed of passing motorists and other improvements.

For 2014, however, the council voted to use $20,000 in red-light camera revenue on a graffiti prevention program. It also voted to use $50,000 on the city’s police volunteer program, Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS. The vote didn’t improve the volunteer program’s overall budget because the city cut $50,000 of other funding from the program.

The council also voted to use $100,000 to hire a new traffic-safety police officer. That position is supposed to be in addition to the 25 new police officers the city already planned to add this year. The council also decided that it would use $300,000 in red-light money for traffic safety projects, split evenly among the three City Council districts.

Council President Ben Stuckart said there’s confusion among some council members on whether administrators actually will hire a police officer devoted to traffic. He added that he believed the red-light funding for COPS would improve the budget for the volunteer program, not replace funding the program previously received.

“I want to dig into it a little deeper,” he said.

But Councilman Mike Fagan said he understood when he voted for the funding that the police department was cutting its support for its volunteer program. The council’s choice was to maintain funding for COPS by using red-light camera money or to accept the cut, he said.

Councilwoman Amber Waldref said she was fine with keeping all extra revenues devoted to traffic safety, but she supports the change to accommodate the compromise council members negotiated.

“That’s what we agreed to, so I’d like to stick to the agreement,” she said.


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