Baltimore County’s speed cameras are issuing fewer citations, proving that drivers are slowing down in 15 targeted areas but also raising some concern that the program may end up losing money just as officials begin expanding it.
The county issued 76,248 citations between September 2010 and last month, collecting approximately $2.3 million in fines from 75 percent of the tickets issued, according to figures provided by the county Office of Budget and Finance.
Between September 2010 and December, the county’s 15 speed cameras issued 33,426 tickets. Between May and August, they issued 21,297 citations—a 36 percent decline.
The county pays nearly $12,000 per camera per month to ACS State and Local Solutions, or more than $2.2 million of the nearly $2.3 million in fines collected. That means the private contractor is making about 95 cents on every dollar collected, up from about 81 cents late last year.
At that rate, the speed camera program could eventually stop paying for itself, critics contend.
"For us this has never been about revenue," wrote county spokesman Don Mohler, in response to an email request. "It's always been about public safety and changing driving behavior, and the program is clearly doing that."
Of the money the county collected in the last 12 months, it kept slightly more than $107,000. It is not immediately clear if that covers the cost of the county employees who manage the program.
"Your numbers are in the ballpark," Mohler wrote. "It all depends on the snapshot of time that someone is looking at—it can range from as low as 80 cents to the 95 cents you reference. The longer it goes, the closer it is to the 95 (percent) because we are giving out fewer tickets, which is always what we wanted to do."
Moher wrote that the "county wanted drivers to slow down, make children safer—not earn revenue—it's always been about changing driver behavior and that is clearly happening."
Joseph Seehusen, co-chairman of the Baltimore County chapter of Americans for Prosperity, said he is concerned that the county is getting dangerously close to losing money on the program.
"I think the company writing the tickets is making money," Seehusen said. "Their business is making money."
Americans for Prosperity, a non-profit organization that supports smaller government and free market philosophies, opposes speed cameras.
A 2010 law authorizing speed cameras allowed the county to place the cameras in school zones only. Motorists are issued $40 citations when they exceed the posted speed limit by more than 12 mph.
Seehusen challenged the belief that the program is working, saying that drivers are still speeding but are slowing down just enough to avoid getting a ticket.
"The nasty little part is that I imagine a child being hit by car driving 25 mph is going to be less seriously hurt than a child hit by a car at 35 mph," Seehusen said. "What (the county) did was create a de facto speed limit of 35 mph in school zones."
"When do we begin to cut the program back?" Seehusen asked. "They're not working and they're not making money."
The decline in citations has been most stark since December, when 10,000 tickets were issued countywide. Since then, the number of tickets issued has dropped by nearly 50 percent. Between January and August the 15 cameras issued an average of 5,353 tickets per month, according to figures supplied by the county Office of Budget and Finance.
*Figures provided by the county Office of Budget and Finance.
|Month||Tickets Issued||Tickets Collected|
In 2009, Police Chief Jim Johnson said the number of accidents in school zones drove the need for adding the cameras. Last year, a county police report showed that the number of accidents in the 15 school zones did not decrease as a result of the cameras.
Lt. Robert McCullough, a police spokesman, said in February that slowing drivers down, not the number of accidents, would be the key benchmark in determining the success of the program.
"The goal is to slow people down," McCullough said at the time in response to questions about the lack of a decline in the accident rate.
Patch first reported two weeks ago that the county intended to move three of the existing cameras to new locations and place an additional camera in front of Perry Hall High School after the first of the year.
In February, the council amended the law limiting the county to installing just 15 cameras in school zones. The county may now install an unlimited number of cameras in school zones across the county.
The county earlier this year also extended the contract with ACS State and Local Solutions.