As you may have noticed, the city began using automated cameras to enforce speed limits near four schools in December of 2012, and they're going to expand the program to install cameras near five more schools next year. By June, the city had issued 30,400 tickets at $189 a pop. While initially estimated to bring in some $800,000 in revenue for the year, they're now expecting closer to $5 million.
The mayor and council strenuously agree that these truckloads of money should only be spent to improve traffic and pedestrian safety around school zones, not be incorporated into the city's budget, tempting as that may be. But how they want to make sure that happens may be quite different.
This morning, the council's government performance and finance committee approved a bill that would create a separate fund for those traffic-camera dollars, so that how, when, and on what the money is spent would be more carefully restricted. There's been talk of simply making sure whatever amount is raised from traffic-camera tickets would then be budgeted toward school-zone safety improvements over the year—it's a bureaucratic headache to deal with specialized separate funds—but this committee, at least, wants to take the extra step and segregate the money, starting in January 2014. The full council will likely vote Monday.
Council President Clark admitted at the meeting, "I hate doing separate funds; it restricts flexibility." But they're well aware of how cranky people get about speeding tickets and they want to make damn sure this money goes where it's intended.
Meanwhile, at an afternoon press conference held by Mayor McGinn to announce new street improvements on NE 75th, where a family was plowed down by a drunk driver this March right near Eckstein Middle School, the question of the traffic-camera fund came up. "I do support making sure that all revenues from cameras are going to" safety improvements in school zones, said McGinn. But he questioned "whether you have to lock it up and let the money gather dust before you spend it... I think we can keep track of how much money we make and how much we're spending."
Part of the conflict stems from how much the fund restrict how you use the money; an earlier version of the bill limited it to infrastructure improvements, but this one that passed adds education campaigns as an allowable expense.