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Miami Springs

Miami Springs counting on red-light camera revenue in face of deficit

 
 
SEEING RED: Miami Springs police officer Janice Simon reviews camera footage of red-light runners along N.W. 36th Street.
SEEING RED: Miami Springs police officer Janice Simon reviews camera footage of red-light runners along N.W. 36th Street.
THEO KARANTSALIS / Special to the Miami Herald

Special to the Miami Herald

Miami Springs’ red-light cameras have generated just over $908,000 during the first nine months of the current fiscal year. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t get to keep all of the money.

After paying out some hefty expenses, the city is only netting about $305,000, according to finance director William Alonso.

The lion’s share of the fees goes to the state’s Department of Revenue, which gets about $439,000, according to Alonso. American Traffic Solutions, the company that installed and maintains the cameras, took home about $165,000.

The city is counting on its red-light camera revenue more than ever as it faces an estimated $600,000 deficit in the general fund for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Worse, the city has been blind-sided recently with more than $1 million in additional and unforeseen expenses related to its golf course.

After a state law change, on July 1, municipalities have scrambled to comply with a new state law.

Miami Springs has quickly worked to protect this revenue stream by setting up its own special local hearing for drivers who wish to contest their citations. Before July 1, violators were herded through the county court system.

“We are well under way with the court planning and code changes,” City Manager Ron Gorland told the Miami Herald in a June 26 email. “We’ll be ready for the first appeal.”

City leaders voted 5-0 on June 24 to adopt an ordinance on second reading to create a local hearing process for appeals.

“We have a list of good candidates [for hearing officers], enough so that we will have a primary and a couple of alternates,” Gorland said.

As of July 25, the city had received applications from four attorneys to serve as a city hearing officer, according to documents obtained by the Herald through a public-records request.

The list includes:

• Joseph Geller, the current city attorney for Miami Lakes, El Portal and Opa-locka, and candidate for a seat in the Florida House;

• Jon Gurney, an appeals hearing officer at FIU;

• Meryl Gold-Levy, a state traffic magistrate; and,

• David Alschuler, a criminal defense lawyer.

“We are in the process of getting metal detectors, laptops and even a bailiff,” said Miami Springs police sergeant Jimmy Deal, who heads the city’s red-light enforcement program. “These cameras have prevented a lot of crashes.”

The Herald sat down with officers and reviewed video footage of car crashes that have occurred in the city as a result of red-light runners, and a series of near misses. In one case, a taxi slammed into an SUV, knocking it across several lanes.

Of the 25,000 red-light offenses logged so far this year, 72 percent have been “approved,” according to Deal.

For those who wish to appeal their citations, the city plans to hold a special traffic court from 5 to 9 p.m. each Thursday, starting Sept. 19, inside the council chambers. Violators have 60 days to request a hearing.

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