Red light cameras turning into a “nightmare” for Oldsmar

Oldsmar red light cameras-2

A red light camera is set up at the intersection of Curlew Road and Gull Aire Boulevard in Oldsmar.

In the summer of 2012, the City of Oldsmar entered into a five-year agreement with American Traffic Solutions, allowing the Arizona-based company to operate four red light cameras in the city at a cost of roughly $19,000 per month.

But thanks to a number of lawsuits that have challenged the legality and constitut-ionality of red light cameras, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri stopped pro-viding staffing for some area RLC programs, including Oldsmar’s, last December.

With its status in limbo, the Oldsmar City Council decided during a workshop in July not to include an appropriation for the RLC program in the FY 2015/16 budget, effectively suspending its contract with ATS until the lawsuits are settled.

And while officials said they believe the City is on solid legal ground in regards to the decision, they cautioned that ATS doesn’t share the same viewpoint.

A red light camera on Curlew Road in Oldsmar.

A red light camera on Curlew Road.

“No vendor will go quietly into the night upon the termination of a contract,” acting City Attorney Randy Mora told the council prior to the first reading of the proposed budget last Thursday.

“Should you decide to adopt a budget that doesn’t include funding for this program, ATS doesn’t agree with the position, ‘Adios, it’s been nice knowing you,’” City Manager Bruce Haddock added.

In fact, not only does ATS believe the city should continue to honor the contract, the company contends Oldsmar owes roughly $100,000 in back payments, according to Mora.

“If the City chooses not to appropriate any funds, ATS…is of the position that the city is in arrears to them, owes them money, and would see the non appropriation as further indebtedness,” Mora said.

Mora said he doesn’t believe the dispute will wind up in court, but he cautioned the matter could eventually go to arbitration. 

In order to try to avoid that, he said ATS came up with a proposal to lower the monthly cost and put a finite date on the end of the contract if the Council agreed to appropriate the funds.

American Traffic Solutions red light camera equipment on Curlew Road in Oldsmar.

American Traffic Solutions red light camera equipment on Curlew Road in Oldsmar.

But the suggestion was quickly shot down.

“If we approve a budget that doesn’t appropriate money for that (program), we have a least drawn a line in the sand,” Mayor Doug Bevis said. “If we don’t appropriate, our stance is that we have the contract that supports that.”

“We really don’t have any choice but to not appropriate,” Council member Eric Seidel said. “Whether we do this or we don’t do this, they’re going to make a claim that we owe them that money every month anyway for the term of the contract.”

Following a lengthy discussion on the subject, one council member summed the situation up thusly:

“It sounds like we’re in a nightmare, and we can’t get out,” Dan Saracki said.

The council later approved the FY 15/16 budget, minus the RLC appropriation, by a vote of 4-0 (Vice-Mayor Gabby McGee was absent from the meeting.)

The second reading is scheduled for Tuesday, September 15.

Afterwards, the mayor explained the reasoning behind City’s decision.

“The red light camera program, as it is now, is not the same program it was in 2012, for a variety of reasons,” Mayor Bevis told Oldsmar Connect. “It’s like when the girl you dated isn’t the same girl you married.”

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