Baton Rouge's controversial red light camera program faces an uncertain future after the Metro Council failed to renew a contract Wednesday — a decision that could allow drivers to blow through intersections without consequences while officials scramble to fill a void in public safety funding after the current pact expires Dec. 31.

The motion to approve a renegotiated contract with American Traffic Solutions failed on a tie vote; one council member didn't vote and another was absent. City-parish Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel said the proposal will likely return to the council's agenda in January. 

Under a program first approved in 2007, the city-parish has used its revenue to support salaries for more than 50 Baton Rouge police officers. If the council decides against entering a new contract, it would need to find a new funding source.

Gissel said failing to extend the program "would hurt public safety."

Officials estimate the proposed renegotiated contract would save at least $347,000 in the 2019 operating budget by increasing the rate of return on paid tickets. But one reason the program has received criticism is that historically 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.

Critics have also questioned whether it's worth contracting with an outside vendor, which eats into profits even more. 

The program has nonetheless generated some 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.

Instead of collecting a percentage of profits, American Traffic Solutions would instead collect a flat fee for each paid ticket. The contractor is in charge of maintaining the camera system and sending tickets to red light violators. 

Supporters argue the program boosts the budget and improves public safety. Officials said fatal crashes resulting from people running red lights have decreased about 66 percent at intersections where the cameras were installed. 

Councilman Matt Watson, who voted against renewing the contract, challenged claims that the cameras have made intersections significantly safer for drivers and said he's glad that people "are finally admitting openly that this was just about the money."

The owners of cars that run red lights at select intersections — there are 24 red light cameras throughout the parish — are fined $117 immediately after the violation, then an additional $35 in late fees after 60 days and $15 more after 90 days.

The vendor, which now receives a percentage of the money collected for each paid ticket, would start collecting flat fees instead under the proposed contract: $30 for each ticket paid when the first notice is mailed, $45.20 when paid on first delinquent notice and $46.70 when paid on second delinquent notice.

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.

Officials have also said they're still evaluating their options in terms of collecting the more than $43 million in unpaid red light tickets that has accumulated over the past 10 years. The city-parish has the legal authority to boot vehicles, report the debt to collection agencies and request payments through small claims court. However, those options have not yet been exercised.

Editor's note: This story was edited after publication to include a statement from councilman Matt Watson.

Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.