A North Jersey state senator is pushing legislation to force municipalities to give up revenue from red-light cameras and challenging the notion the cameras are for safety, but a Gloucester Township official questions the sharing aspect of the bill.
State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Hunterdon-Somerset-Warren), who has previously sponsored legislation aimed at banning the cameras outright, fired directly at town officials in drafting the new bill, claiming the revenue from tickets—which run drivers $85 per violation in Gloucester Township—is the real purpose behind having red-light cameras in place.
Instead of leaving the money in the towns’ hands, Doherty’s draft bill, which has yet to be introduced, would divert all red-light camera revenue to the state Highway Safety Fund, to be disbursed as needed for safety measures around the state.
“This legislation allows towns to keep the cameras that local officials say make their intersections safer, but not the ticket revenues their cameras generate,” said Doherty in a statement. “Every mayor and local official who is on record saying cameras are about safety, not money, should support this bill. If they don’t, it will prove their previous support of cameras under the guise of safety was fraudulent.”
But Gloucester Township Business Administrator Tom Cardis says dumping the ticket revenues into a general state fund is the wrong move. He asserted the township put in the work to get approved for the state's pilot program, and should maintain control of fines generated by its red-light cameras.
“My criticism of this is it implies we've done something wrong, and we've done nothing wrong,” Cardis said. "We made our application—which a lot of municipalities did not do, and that's on them that they did not take the initiative to do this; it was available to everybody."
Cardis also pointed out that when the state Department of Transportation suspended ticketing from cameras in June 2012 in 21 of 25 municipalities approved for the state's pilot program, Gloucester Township was not among them. The state ordered the 21 municipalities to certify their cameras met the program's statutory requirements.
"We were very diligent in making sure that we followed the letter of the law," he said.
Doherty maintains the money generated by red-light camera fines would be put to better use in a dedicated state fund.
“Under current law, most red-light camera ticket revenues go to supporting bloated municipal budgets, which is unproductive,” said Doherty. "How many towns and local officials will continue to demand the opportunity to install red-light cameras or fight to keep the cameras they already have if their share of ticket revenues is cut off?”
Cardis defended the safety aspect of the red-light cameras, but rhetorically asked in specific response to Doherty's proposal: "Do we share the drunk-driving convictions we get in the town here? What if we're making more money than it's costing us to issue the tickets for drunk driving?" he said. "What about for speeding violations? What if we're bringing in more money than it's costing us to issue those violations? Where do you stop? What do we share? Should we share everything?"
Gloucester Township issued a total of 38,766 traffic tickets between July 2010 and December 2011 as a result of driving actions captured by 10 cameras along Blackwood Clementon Road and later deemed illegal by police upon review.
The township keeps $73.50 of each guilty verdict or plea from the red-light camera tickets—the remaining $11.50 goes to the state. It also pays the company that operates the cameras, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions, $47,500 per month for the 10 cameras, for a total of $570,000 per year.