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Published: Monday, 6/22/2009

Toledo gambling on camera payoff

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo's 2009 general fund budget still has a $12.5 million shortfall, and city leaders say that deficit could grow if advocates of a petition drive to ban red-light cameras are successful.

Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has sought for months to balance the budget with a combination of new revenue such as a higher trash free, along with cuts, including union concessions.

The city is gambling, though, that enough drivers will run red lights at the 21 intersections where the cameras are installed to generate $2.5 million this year.

Some might say the estimate is high and the city will be short come Dec. 31.

The cameras produced $1.34 million in 2008 and about $298,000 as of April 30.

"One of the problems last year - why it didn't meet the expectation - is because they didn't get the cameras at the locations in time," said City Finance Director John Sherburne.

"So now that they are installed and the fines were raised last year, according to the police they should meet that expectation," he said.

Mr. Sherburne said the city is sure to collect more money from the cameras during the summer months when more motorists are on the streets.

In January, members of a Cincinnati group that in 2008 successfully fought the installation of red-light cameras there brought the fight to Toledo. Toledo was the first Midwestern city to install red-light cameras.

The group needs 9,750 valid signatures from registered voters to get the issue on the ballot in Toledo's November general election. It hopes to collect 14,000 signatures.

The deadline for the signatures to be filed with the Lucas County Board of Elections is Aug. 20.

Chris Finney, a board member of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, said the cameras are not intended to increase traffic safety but to add money to the city's coffers.

Toledo Police Chief Mike Navarre said money is absolutely not the reason for the cameras.

"I believe in the red-light camera[s] and they have been proven just by the very fact there is a drop in violations at the intersections where they are installed," Chief Navarre said. "If less people are going through red lights, there are going to be less accidents."

A study by Toledo police of crashes at intersections found a 20.7 percent reduction at intersections with cameras in the 2001-to-2004 period compared with the number of crashes in the period between 1996 and 2000.

The petition drive in Toledo has gone almost unnoticed, but the group meets occasionally at Delaney's Tavern on Alexis Road, where owner Bill Delaney promotes the cause.

"I still have petitions at the bar, but we are reorganizing and we are going to blitz to get as many volunteers as we can," Mr. Delaney said. "We don't have to turn them [the petitions] in until August."

Mr. Delaney acknowledged that few volunteers are out seeking signatures.

The fee from a red-light-camera ticket or speed-camera ticket is $120. In 2008, the city approved a five-year agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. of Culver City, Calif., to continue operating the cameras, many of which also have a speed-enforcement feature.

The deal increased the fines from $95 to $120 and the amount of revenue the city receives from 25 percent to 54.2 percent.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.



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