Council considers funding for speed camera program
County currently operates 60 permanent cameras, six mobile cameras
County police Tuesday defended the county's speed camera program from community residents opposed to the traffic-monitoring devices, as the County Council considers whether to fund administrative costs associated with an expansion of the program in the past two years.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is asking the council to fund $2.9 million in administrative costs associated with the camera program. The request comes after the council approved the county's $4.4 billion budget for next year. Leggett assumed the money in his budget recommendation for fiscal 2010, which begins in July.
Currently, Montgomery County is the only jurisdiction in the state that operates speed cameras; the program began in 2007. During the past two years, the program has increased to 60 permanent cameras located along 37 roads in the county, and another six mobile cameras that are moved throughout the county in approved areas.
A statewide law, which takes effect Oct. 1, allows the state to place cameras near highway work zones and gives counties and municipalities the option to install the cameras within a half-mile of schools. Drivers photographed going at least 12 mph over the posted speed limit will receive a $40 ticket but no points on their licenses.
To conform with state law, Montgomery's ticket threshold will increase from 10 mph over the speed limit to 12 mph in October, county police said.
Since the program's inception, some county residents have criticized the cameras as being cash generators rather than traffic safety tools, as touted by county officials.
Within the first 10 months of the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the county has collected $15 million in fines from traffic cameras. In fiscal 2008, the county collected $11 million. During the two months of fiscal 2007, when the program began, the county collected $212,000.
During a public hearing on the administrative funding Tuesday, county resident Alyce Ortuzar told council members that the cameras "violated the basic tenets of good government."
A separate class-action lawsuit against the county is currently under way, alleging that the county's contract with camera vendor ACS State and Local Solutions, which allows the company to collect a $16.25 per ticket fee from the $40 citations, violates state law.
Despite the criticism of the program, the cameras are working to reduce traffic problems in the county, said Captain John A. Damskey, who leads the police's Traffic Division.
Data for the first six months of the year show a 53 percent decrease in traffic fatalities — from 19 in 2008 to nine this year. The department recorded 18 fatalities during the same period in 2007.
"Somewhere in there the cameras are playing a part in this," Damskey said about the declining traffic statistics. "This is important, it is vital, it is a good thing for our residents."
Another police study conducted in December found a 22 percent reduction of average speed of vehicles going through the initial 11 sites where cameras were installed. A 25 percent reduction in crashes also was reported on those roads, according to police data.
Police are not currently recommending increasing the number of cameras beyond 66, but the recently passed state law could allow for more cameras within the county.
"I don't think 66 [cameras] is an excessive number," said Council President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, noting that the county also operates 45 red-light cameras. "There is a number where you reach a critical mass, but I think the balance is about right."
A council committee hearing on the administrative funding is scheduled for June 25.
County police officials will host a daylong forum at the Universities at Shady Grove on June 24 for officials across the state who are interested in implementing speed-camera programs in their jurisdictions.