East Baton Rouge Parish intends to leave its red light cameras up and operating after Jan. 1 even though its contract with the firm in charge of collecting fines expires on New Year's Eve.
The city-parish's chief administrative officer said Monday the cameras would still log stop-light violations in 2019, even though the parish hasn't been able to hammer out new terms with American Traffic Solutions. A proposed new contract failed on a tie vote at the Metro Council meeting last week.
"The cameras will still be in place; they won't be pulled," Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said. "They'll still be taking pictures and citations are going to go out. The question will be: How will they be processed until we can get the item back on the agenda and voted on at the council's second meeting in January."
Gissel said local law enforcement also use the red light cameras for traffic control and crime prevention.
Baton Rouge's controversial red light camera program faces an uncertain future after the Metro Council failed to renew a contract Wednesday — …
Separately, a pair of lawyers are arguing ATS isn't authorized to issue citations at all under the parish's home rule charter. They want East Baton Rouge Parish to reimburse all fines collected from citations since the red light camera program began in 2007. Their argument is similar to one that led to reimbursements from similar ticketing systems in the New Orleans area.
Metairie attorney Joseph McMahon III and Anthony Maska, a Hammond-based lawyer, are seeking class-action status in a lawsuit filed Dec. 7 in the 19th Judicial District Court.
Jefferson Parish did away with a program that was in place between 2007 and 2010 after questions rose about payments from its vendor, Redflex, to local lobbyists. A judge ruled in 2015 that the parish owed $7.1 million to 147,000 drivers who received tickets while the cameras there were in use.
McMahon noted Monday that a judge also had ordered Orleans Parish to reimburse approximately $27 million in fines the parish collected over the initial three years of its program. A judge has yet to rule on the lingering questions surrounding the constitutionality of the Orleans Parish program, McMahon said.
In their lawsuit against the Baton Rouge red light camera program, the attorneys assert the city-parish's Department of Public Works does not have the authority to enforce the laws spelled out in the parish's home rule charter since the program's implementation in 2007.
"It's mandated that the police department is responsible for enforcement of the ordinances of the council," the lawsuit states. "There is no provision with the city's home rule charter authorizing DPW to enforce any traffic ordinances."
McMahan estimates the city-parish has collected approximately $10 million in fines from the more than 80,000 citations issued over the life of its program. That's $125 a ticket.
"Within the next 90 days, we'll be going before a judge to justify why this is a class-action lawsuit," he said. "There are things we'll need to show for the judge to certify the class."
As of right now, Chad Soileau and Greg Duhon are the only named plaintiffs in the suit.
Gissel said Monday there are “key differences” between the city-parish’s red light camera program and the ones in Jefferson and Orleans parishes. He wouldn’t comment further on the lawsuit under the advice of parish attorneys because of the pending litigation.
However, he did say when the administration puts the contract back on the agenda next month, he believes there will be enough votes to pass it. A few of those key supporters were out of the room last time, he said.
“We addressed most of their concerns,” Gissel said.
City-parish officials have estimated the proposed renegotiated contract with ATS would save at least $347,000 in the 2019 operating budget by increasing the rate of return on paid tickets.
After previous complaints that ATS was eating into too much of the profits from fines, the city-parish reworked its contract so that the company will instead receive a flat fee for each paid ticket. The new agreement also includes the option of installing more cameras at no extra cost and four annual renewals, which would extend it for the next five years.
Another criticism from council members has been that just a fraction of the people fined for running red lights actually pay their tickets — in some years less than 50 percent. That number was 38 percent for the 72,847 first notices of violation issued in 2017. And one man owes more than $26,000 in unpaid red light violation fines.
Sean Watson holds an unusual record in the history of Baton Rouge’s red-light camera program. He’s amassed $26,633 in unpaid tickets and late …
Gissel said previously the mayor's office is still evaluating the options they have to collect outstanding fines. That total was somewhere around $43 million for the first 10 years of the program.
Gissel said Monday the city-parish will only be able to go after about three years of owed fines – which amounts to approximately $23 million.
The red light camera program has generated significant revenue: $2.9 million last year and $2.3 million in 2016. And officials expect that those profits would grow to $3.5 million in 2019 if the contract change is approved.