Are Clewiston’s red-light cameras effective?

The viability of the infamous red light cameras — which aim to catch red-light runners red-handed — is being called into question after the revenue they generated in 2014 was brought before the commission during a budget workshop last month.

The city of Clewiston gets a portion of the hundreds of thousands of dollars the red light cameras generate each year, but that portion became much smaller in 2014, according to data released by the city of Clewiston’s Finance Department.

When a vehicle runs a red light and is captured on camera, if it is a valid violation, the driver is issued a $158 ticket. By Florida statute, the state receives a significant portion of that money — up to $113 — leaving about $45 for the municipality. The company who owns the cameras, however, receives a portion of that $45, leaving the municipality with even less.

A summary of the funds received and expended shows that since the cameras were installed at two intersections in January 2012, the city of Clewiston has averaged a 13-percent cut of the total net funds as of July 2014.

The vast majority of the funds generated, however, go to the company who owns the cameras — American Traffic Solutions (ATS) — and the state of Florida.

From January to September 2012, the two cameras generated $222,850 in total funds. ATS received a 39-percent cut of those funds, while the state of Florida received a 48-percent cut, according to the data. This left the city of Clewiston with a 12-percent cut of the funds, amounting to about $27,426 in net fines.

Fiscal year 2013 was an even better year for total funds received, with the cameras reportedly generating $321,441 in total funds from October 2012 to September 2013.

ATS received 36 percent of those funds, the state of Florida received 46 percent, and the city of Clewiston received a slightly larger 18-percent cut of the total funds in 2013.

This amounted to about $57,914 in net fines generated for the city.

This year, however, the city of Clewiston is receiving a significantly smaller slice of the red-light-camera pie. As of July 2014, the city of Clewiston is receiving five percent of the total net funds received, a mere $10,753. ATS and the state of Florida, on the other hand, are receiving a 47-percent and 48-percent cut, respectively.

That percentage could increase slightly, since the 2014 numbers are only valid through July, leaving room for two months worth of data as the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. It is unlikely, however, that enough funds would be generated to increase that five percent close to the 2012 and 2013 percentages.

Seeing such a drastic decrease in the revenue generated has called some city staff members to question the practicality of the red light cameras.

City Manager Al Perry told The Clewiston News that there have been discussions among staff members that if the revenues continue to decrease for the city, the red light cameras could be taken down.

“It’s not worth it. It’s a lot of time to review the violations — it’s daily that we’re reviewing these things and we do it in-house,” said Perry.

The city attorney is currently reviewing the contract between ATS and the city of Clewiston, which runs out in about a year and a half. If the city can get out of the contract early, it may decide to do so, said Perry. That decision would fall on the city commission, however.

Clewiston Police Chief Don Gutshall weighed in on the discussion, but viewed the benefit of the cameras from a safety standpoint.

“I have noticed the number of rear-end accidents along U.S. 27 has remained about the same as it was years prior, but we rarely ever see a T-bone accident anymore, which is far more dangerous,” said Chief Gutshall. “I think they have done their job. Whether they’re financially viable, well that’s above my pay grade.”

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