The city of Miami will resume issuing tickets Friday to drivers caught running certain red lights, after commissioners narrowly decided Thursday to create a special board to hear citation appeals.
The commission remained divided on the issue, voting 3-2 to set up the board — and as a result reinstate the tickets — two weeks after delaying a vote in an attempt to reach broader agreement.
Chairman Marc Sarnoff, Vice Chairman Wifredo “Willy” Gort and Commissioner Michelle Spence-Jones voted in favor. Commissioners Frank Carollo and Francis Suarez voted against.
Commissioners on Thursday also voted to accept Mayor Tomás Regalado’s proposed property tax rate, which features a slight decrease, but not without dissent from Sarnoff and Suarez, who is challenging the mayor for the city’s top post in November.
On the red light camera vote, Gort characterized the decision as an easy one because he said traffic cameras have made Miami’s streets safer. “It does change people’s driving,” he said.
The hearing board won’t be ready until mid-September, according to Assistant City Manager Alice Bravo, but tickets will resume Friday. Drivers have 60 days to contest the tickets; the lag gives Miami time to establish the appeals process.
Tickets had been suspended for more than three weeks — though the city’s 153 traffic cameras at 98 intersections were still turned on — while commissioners made up their minds on the creation of the new board.
A state law that kicked in July 1 required municipalities to set up the board if they wanted to continue their largely profitable red-light camera programs. Previously, drivers had to fight the tickets in county court.
Several other cities have already created the boards, including Davie, Hollywood and Coral Gables. Doral has suspended its cameras and is considering doing away with them altogether, with city council members scheduled to take up the matter at their next meeting on Aug. 21.
Miami makes $3.4 million a year from the more-than 1,200 citations it issues a month. The appeals process will require drivers who unsuccessfully contest their tickets to pay an additional $85 administrative fee.
That’s less than other cities that plan to take full advantage of the state law, which allows them to charge up to $250 in fees.
Drivers who don’t show up to their hearing or fail to pay the fine after losing an appeal would be unable to renew their vehicle registration until they pay up.
Suarez cited that penalty as one of the reasons he opposed creating the appeals board. Incumbent Regalado supports the red-light camera program.
But Bravo, the assistant city manager, said the penalty would be more forgiving than under the previous law, which called for a driver’s license suspension for someone who failed to pay.
“The law was meant to provide citizens with more options and a more-lenient process,” she said.
Suarez lambasted Regalado’s administration for providing commissioners with incomplete information on the appeals board when it first came up in June and then in early July. He also said he did not trust projections of how much the board would cost the city.
Out of the debate came several future policy proposals, including requiring commission approval before any additional cameras are installed. The city’s existing contract with American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based vendor that operates the cameras, allows the administration to sign off on new devices without a commission vote — an action that Miami has taken at least twice.