Traffic cameras won’t come to city

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, March 24, 2009

NATCHEZ — Gov. Haley Barbour signed into law a statewide ban against traffic light cameras, effectively ending Natchez’s venture in having any cameras installed.

The cameras — installed on traffic signals — record red light violators.

Tickets are issued via mail by way of the driver’s license plate number.

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Various companies partner with cities to install the cameras and then split the revenue from the tickets.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted unanimously in October to enter into a contract with Red Speed to install two cameras.

The cameras would serve the city in a variety of purposes, the aldermen said.

“The first one would be the safety factor,” Alderman Bob Pollard said.

Toward the end of October, Red Speed officials came to Natchez to conduct a traffic study in town.

The study showed that in six hours, one traffic light was violated 80 times.

Police Chief Mike Mullins said the cameras were needed.

“I’m disappointed,” he said. “It was an excellent tool, in my opinion, to improve traffic safety and reduce fatalities and accidents with injuries.”

Alderman Dan Dillard said safety was his main reason for voting for the cameras’ installation.

“They are statistically proven to reduce accidents at intersections by as much as 68 percent,” he said.

Mayor Jake Middleton said he attempted to sway the governor’s decision.

“I sent a letter to the governor’s office in favor and support of the traffic light cameras, stating that we just don’t have the manpower to sit policemen on corners and watch red lights,” Middleton said.

Mullins has said the police department writes approximately 60 accident reports per month, with 40 of those involving injuries.

Mullins also said insurance companies report that for every 30 wrecks with injuries per month, 10 to 15 hazardous moving violation — simple traffic law violations — tickets should be written.

Mullins said using that equation, NPD should be writing 200 tickets a month, but for three years have only been writing 120 per month.

Middleton said the cameras would have been a helpful aid in solving downtown problems.

The cameras also had a feature that would continuously record.

“We were going to get a camera so we could observe after-hours movement downtown and watch people who are littering and urinating up and down the streets in the wee hours of the morning,” Middleton said.

Also, Pollard said if there was any other criminal activity in the area — a purse snatching or kidnapping — the cameras would record that, too.

Because the revenue from the ticket issuing was going to be split 50-50 between Red Speed and the city, the revenue will be missed, city officials said.

The City of Columbus had one traffic light installed in June 2008, and collected the revenue through February.

In eight months of collections, Columbus Chief Financial Officer Mike Bernsen said the city collected approximately $53,000 from the revenue into its general fund.

Columbus contracted the cameras through Redflex, and the company received $46,000 in revenue.

“All told, (collections) were just shy of $100,000,” Bernsen said.

Before the bill was signed by Barbour, Columbus removed its camera in anticipation of the bill becoming law.

Natchez city officials said they are thankful the cameras had not yet been installed.

“You can’t miss what you never had,” Alderman James “Ricky” Gray said.

Alderman Ernest “Tony” Fields said it would have been more of a headache had the cameras been installed.

“I’m just glad we didn’t get deep into it,” he said.

The city did, however, enter into a contract with Red Speed.

City Attorney Everett Sanders said he hasn’t reviewed the contract, but he thinks there is some type of clause that would nullify the contract in a situation like this.

“I believe that if it’s unlawful to use, then that voids the contract,” he said. “You can’t hold somebody to a contract to do something that has been declared illegal.”