City Council advances plan to permit red-light cameras

Posted: May 22, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — City Council took a step Tuesday night toward introducing red-light cameras to Winchester.

By a 6-3 vote at a work session, the councilors advanced an ordinance to create a section of City Code allowing photo-monitoring systems to be used to enforce traffic signal lights. The ordinance could be up for a final vote as early as the July 9 council meeting.

Council President John Willingham and councilors Jeffrey Buettner and Ben Weber opposed advancing the legislation. Willingham said his opposition was based on privacy concerns.

Police Chief Kevin Sanzenbacher and David Samuels, regional sales manager for prospective contractor Redflex Traffic Systems, briefed the councilors on the potential advantages of using the system. They included:

Improved safety. “What you’ll see in the first six months is a significant drop in violations,” City Manager Dale Iman said. “That’s what it’s all about, public safety.”

Improved enforcement. Sanzenbacher said red-light violations are difficult to prosecute “because judges want officers to testify that they saw the violator when he entered the intersection and went through the red light.”

A guarantee that the system will operate at no cost to the city. All expenses are borne by Redflex, which would receive a set monthly fee from fines paid by violators. Any extra revenue would go to the city.

Violators would be subject to a $50 civil fine and would not have points assessed against their driving record, Samuels said.

The city would have to prosecute any disputed cases that went to court. However, City Attorney Tony Williams said most violators simply pay the fine because of the strength of the evidence.

Vice-Mayor Milt McInturff asked if City Council could designate that any excess revenue be given to an area nonprofit organization so residents wouldn’t see the ordinance as a money grab.

Williams said the council can’t bind future councils regarding revenue allocations, but such an intent could be inserted into the ordinance.

Virginia law allows the city to install the traffic cameras at up to two intersections, based on Winchester’s population. Sanzenbacher is recommending that the Berryville Avenue-Pleasant Valley Road and the Jubal Early Drive-Pleasant Valley Road intersections be monitored because research shows that they have the highest number of violations.

Sanzenbacher also said speeders could not be ticketed based on data collected by the cameras because state law doesn’t allow such use.

Samuels showed councilors compilation footage of drivers running red lights taken from two cameras placed at city intersections. He explained that if they’re cited, drivers would receive the citation, photos of the violation in progress and the address of a website where they could view a video clip of the infraction.

The proposed contract with Redflex would be for five years.

The proposal already has one opponent from the public.

City resident Todd Golding spoke during the public comment period before the meeting. He said his biggest complaint was that state law requires the owner of the car to be ticketed for the offense because that person is considered to be the operator.

“I’ve always thought that that was wrong,” the Kinzel Drive resident said. “I think the person who committed the violation should be the one who gets the ticket.”

Samuels said only three states allow front-view cameras that could be used to identify a driver, and Virginia isn’t one of them.

The councilors also appear to have finalized their fiscal year 2014 budget preparation with the discussion of eight questions raised by Weber at last week’s meeting.

While some details were clarified or reaffirmed, any concerns apparently were addressed as no one suggested that the spending plan be modified.

The councilors also voted 9-0 to advance a resolution commending 14-year-old Savanna Payne for her calm 911 call after her godmother crashed her vehicle due to a medical emergency.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com