SPRINGFIELD — Even though the county filed a complaint in court last year after the township failed to hand over their share of red-light camera fine revenue, the mayor is standing his ground.
The county actually filed the complaint in February 2012 alleging that Springfield violated the state statute by withholding the money that is legally the county’s and keeping it for themselves.
The township, on the other hand, responded to the complaint by denying the allegations, claiming the county is “bound by unjust enrichment.” However, according to the state statute, the county has every right to the money, if Springfield agreed to let the county “opt in” and pay half the cost of the cameras and installation, which the county said Tuesday that they did.
On Tuesday Union County Legal Council Robert Barry provided their take on the situation with Springfield.
“We believe the statute established our right to participate in these red light camera projects as long as we pay half the costs, regardless of which public entity owns the roadway,” Barry said, adding that the county “is still hopeful an amicable agreement can be reached in this matter.”
According to Mayor David Amlen, however, the county should not be receiving half of the small amount the township gets after everyone else gets a share of the profit.
The mayor said the problem is the township comes out with very little revenue in the end, $17 to be exact, and he felt that is not fair.
“So they expect us to split $17,” he asked, pointing out that only one of the two red-light cameras is on a state road.
“This entire thing got overblown,” Amlen said, explaining that the township is supposed to give the county “one half of the net amount we pull in.”
The mayor said the township pulls in considerable revenue a month from
red-light ticket fines, but after costs, including the state getting their share, court costs and the red-light camera company’s portion, splitting $17 with the
county does not seem fair.
“We also have to pay the police officer who looks at all the tapes to insure a violation actually took place,” the mayor said.
“This is $25,000 a month in found revenue and by the time everyone gets a piece, we are left with $17 and then we have to split it with the county? Something is wrong when these cameras are in our town and we end up with $8.50 out of an $85 fine,” Amlen said.
Since the debacle began, the mayor said the township has been putting the county’s share of the fines into an escrow account, but he is hoping the court ends up settling the matter in the township’s favor.
Union Police Director Dan Zieser said Tuesday that the county decided to “opt in” with Union, which means they decided to pay for half the cost of the cameras and installation. This means the township, which has cameras at three traffic intersections joined by county roads, also has to divvy up the $85 ticket fine, but Zieser said “that’s the deal.”
He explained that out of the $85 ticket fine, the township ends up with $46.50 and the county gets $27 and the state $11.50.
There also is the rental fee for the cameras, which the county pays half of, Zieser said, but mentioned that revenue from the cameras is down by 40 to 50 percent.
“People are just driving safer now as a result of the cameras,” the police director added.
According to Zieser, Union made $2.4 million from red light cameras before deductions.
The red-light camera law is very clear, according to Linden Mayor Rich Gerbounka, whose city was the first in the county to have the red-light camera’s installed.
“The law, as it is written, is clear that if a county elected to pay one-half the installation, maintenance and administration of the traffic control signal monitoring system, half the fine has to be paid to them,” Gerbounka said.
The mayor provided a copy of the law, which clearly points out they are entitled to this revenue. The statute also pointed out that the state is notified when a county agrees to participate with a municipality within its jurisdiction.
Gerbounka also provided LocalSource with a copy of the letter the county sent to the state when they entered into an agreement with Linden in August 2011.
The letter referred to the portion of the statute which noted that the fine shall go to the municipality, “unless the governing body of the county has elected to pay one-half the cost of the installation, maintenance and administration” of the red-light cameras in that particular town. In that case half the revenue from the ticket goes to the county.
Further, this “revenue sharing” is triggered when a municipality notifies the courts that the county is now partners with the town on the venture.
The mayor also provided a letter they received in 2011 from the county and signed by First Deputy County Counsel Norman Albert. This letter notified the city that the county decided to participate in the red-light camera program in their town and would be paying half the cost of installation, maintenance and administration.
In Linden’s case, on remaining revenue of $55, the county received $27.50.
Meanwhile, legislators continue to debate not only whether the program is worth the effort, from the standpoint of safety and the revenue angle.
For instance, Democratic State Senator Nick Scutari thinks the entire program should be scrapped. In September 2012 this was his take on the entire venture.
“Red-light cameras are essentially rigged to operate as revenue raiser for municipalities. I have long opposed their use by local governments and advocated ending the program altogether,” the state senator from Union County said.
The bill, according to another legislator, was never meant to be a cash cow. Republican State Sen. Mike Doherty, a vocal opponent of the program, explained why last fall when he spoke on the matter.
“We should end this program because it’s not about safety,” he said.