City studies proposed contract with red light photo-enforcement vendor

Auburn's red light photo-enforcement program has worked so well at slicing the number of traffic violations in the seven years that have elapsed since it began that today it is running at a deficit.

That is, with the number of citations dropping every year, the program now costs the City more to operate than it brings in. In 2012, the City spent $180,000 on administrative costs.

Partly because of that new reality, members of Auburn's Municipal Services Committee have been busy studying various contract proposals with Redflex Traffic Systems of Arizona, which owns and operates all of the red-light photo enforcement and school-zone cameras.

The present contract ends on May 31, 2014.

City leaders at one time had considered putting a request for proposals out to rival vendors, but they abandoned that idea after getting a look at how much staff time that would eat up.

According to Chief Financial Officer Shelley Coleman, Auburn recently asked for, and Redflex agreed to, the following: a cost-neutral contract: funds to compensate the City for its expenses; and for all infractions to be filed with King County District Court.

King County District Court, Coleman said, has a much better infraction collection rate than Redflex.

The proposed contract length is six years, with two two-year extensions subject to City review and refusal.

"We are confident that this is a contract that would be beneficial to the City," Coleman concluded.

Councilman Wayne Osborne could not agree.

"I'll be honest with you, I'm in favor of doing away with Redflex," Osborne said.

Seven seconds of silence broken by the shuffling of papers followed.

One of Osborne's objections was that the City of Auburn shouldn't "be tied up" with such a long contract.

"I don't think we're getting out of it what we thought we were originally getting out of it," Osborne said of the program. "If you look at it, the reduction in citations has gone down every year significantly. So if we continue with that same trend, we're going to be down to almost zero citations at the end of the 10-year period."

"Because it would be a horrible thing to be down to zero?" Mayor Pete Lewis asked.

"No, it would be great to do be down to zero. ... But in the last year we had $180,000 in administrative costs, and they're going to take in $60,000, and we'll still be down $120,000 administratively."

"Wait a minute," Lewis cut in. "You're not $120,000 down if you don't have any business."

"We still have the administrative costs," Osborne answered.

Lewis said that administrative costs are directly proportional to the amount of work required, noting that if the work going on drops to zero, the administrative costs drop way down, too.

Osborne then questioned why the City had cameras in school zones that are bus-only schools, citing "the Jacobsen Farm Road on 132nd" where "it's fully walk-to-school. Why are we giving citizens citations in school zones where there are no walking students?"

It was the Auburn School District, Lewis answered, that had asked for cameras on the routes cited by Osborne. And the district, Lewis continued, made some adjustments on those routes in the last school year that have since dropped the number of complaints significantly.

"And it isn't bus-only. There are kids walking around there at particular times, and the school PTAs were also involved in those discussions. ... They are still concerned with safety in those areas. That's why [the cameras] are there."

Osborne argued that intersections showing only 46 violations in a three-month period clearly didn't need the cameras any longer.

No, Lewis said, such intersections still produce numbers of citations and that means, he said, that the cameras still need to be there.

"I understand what you're saying," Police Chief Bob Lee said to Osborne. "But if they go away... look at the number of violations we first started with, and that's where we'll be back to in three-to-four years with people running red lights."

Osborne then proposed that if the City is to continue issuing infractions, those infractions should go on the driver's record, not simply result in a fine, as is now the case. That, he said, would have a greater impact on drivers.

Osborne's idea would call for at least two extra officers, and Chief Lee said he didn't have them just now.

Also, said Human Resources Manager Brenda Heineman, the costs involved with two extra officers would be prohibitive.

"I would hate like heck to see us go back to 2005," said committee chairman Bill Peloza. "People are people, and when they know that we are not taking any action regarding public safety, they're just going to go bang, bang, bang, right into those red lights, and we are going to see more and more accidents."

The committee agreed in the end to send out a new request for proposals and to ask for additional accident data at various intersections.

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