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Local officials continue to debate, react to red-light camera ban

(Thinkstock.com photo)

(Thinkstock.com photo)

St. Peters use of red-light cameras for traffic enforcement may be coming to a final stop.

The city’s Board of Aldermen is expected to approve a resolution at its Feb. 26 meeting that would move toward ending its contract with a private firm that runs the system for the city.

The resolution authorizes City Administrator William Charnisky to negotiate a termination agreement with Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc., the Arizona-based company that provides the cameras and other services. The board discussed the resolution at its Feb. 12 work session before its regular meeting.

Mayor Len Pagano said the city wants to close out its contract with Redflex for cameras it can no longer use.

The cameras have not operated since Sept. 1 following a vote by the aldermen in August to suspend the city’s red-light camera use. In November, county voters approved a charter amendment calling for a countywide ban on red-light cameras, a move which has pitted some local cities against the county and culminated in the filing of a lawsuit.

St. Peters is among a group of county municipalities that filed suit in St. Charles County Circuit Court challenging the countywide ban on red-light cameras, which nearly 73 percent of county voters approved on Nov. 4.

Dardenne Prairie Mayor Pam Fogarty along with O’Fallon Councilmember Jim Pepper and the cities of O’Fallon, St. Peters and Lake Saint Louis have filed suit in St. Charles County Circuit Court challenging the countywide ban on red-light cameras, saying the suit has more to do with the legal issues surrounding the authority of the county government over municipal laws than the red-light cameras themselves.

The lawsuit contends that the ban is counter to state laws giving municipalities control over traffic regulations within their boundaries. It contends that the charter amendment placed on the ballot by the St. Charles County Council oversteps the powers of home-rule counties in the state.

“This lawsuit has nothing to do with red-light cameras,” Fogarty said. “What it has to do with is how the county put it on the ballot. They did not have the proper authority to do that. That’s the issue.

“They (the county) went beyond their rights to do so. It is a city’s individual right to control its own traffic.”

In response to Fogarty’s position on the subject, County Executive Steve Ehlmann said the whole idea of having a charter is that people can tell the government what they want.

“Under a charter form of government, it’s the right of the people to decide whether they want red-light cameras or not,” Ehlmann said. “I think they (the people) have spoken very loud and clear, and I’m glad to be on their side.”

The Dardenne Prairie Board of Aldermen voted 6-0 at their Feb. 18 meeting to approve an ordinance prohibiting the installation and use of red-light cameras in the city even though the city has never had red-light cameras. However, the board has not agreed to allow the city to enter the lawsuit as a plaintiff, Fogarty and some aldermen have said.

Fogarty added that the board’s approval of an ordinance supporting a ban is “technically” the proper thing do and would protect the city legally.

Dardenne Prairie Alderman Sharon West (Ward 3) said she understood the litigation that is pending “but this (banning red-light cameras) is what I want for our city.”

She agreed that aldermen could change the law later, but given her opposition to red-light cameras she said she wanted the bill right now.

“If you want red-light cameras go for it,” she said.

Nearby, in Lake Saint Louis, that city’s Board of Aldermen gave a first reading to a bill at its Feb. 16 meeting that would have allowed the city to sign a retainer agreement for legal services in connection with the suit. However, the board did not give it a required second reading and vote on final passage.

Two aldermen who had opposed a first reading in January – Aldermen Tony Zito (Ward 1) and Jason Law (Ward 3), – again objected to the bill on Feb. 16. Law said in January that he didn’t want Lake Saint Louis in a position of favoring red-light cameras when the majority of county residents opposed them.

St. Peters is the only municipality in the county that has recently used red-light cameras. Red-light cameras take photos of vehicles that travel through intersections when traffic signals change to red. Violators receive a ticket with photos of their vehicle and have the option of paying a $100 or more fine or appearing in municipal court

Red-light cameras have been used since 2006 in St. Peters. Proceeds from fines help fund a city senior transportation program that provides eligible seniors and disabled people with free rides to medical appointments.

The official end of the red-light camera era in St. Peters doesn’t mean an end to the litigation surrounding the cameras or the end of support for the city’s senior transportation program, which will be supported by other funds in the city budget.

According to the city’s aldermen, the decision to use red-light cameras was not about finding more revenue for the city.

“This is not about money, it’s not about power, it’s simply about trying to enforce good behavior,” Alderman Dave Thomas (Ward 1) said.

Hollingsworth said revenue from the program never went into the city’s general fund but was always earmarked for transportation services for seniors.

“We did listen to the people,” said Alderman Patrick Barclay (Ward 4).

In ending the contract, the aldermen also said they were responding to residents, although several said it appears that red-light violations may be up at the intersections where the cameras were installed.

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