Red Deer city council gave the green light to a third photo radar van in a 5-4 split decision on Monday.
The new radar will be nabbing heavy-footed drivers as early as April.
Councillors Tanya Handley, Dianne Wyntjes, Buck Buchanan and Lawrence Lee voted against adding the third van. In favour were Mayor Tara Veer and Councillors Paul Harris, Frank Wong, Ken Johnston and Lynne Mulder. Council heard the photo radar is missing the mark for projected revenue but is making some headway in improving safety.
Coun. Wyntjes said she would like to see the proof that the photo radar is working or whether it is simply a cash grab for the city.
Wyntjes said the city should look at other initiatives for road safety instead of penalizing motorists with a ticket.
“I see there are other initiatives that we can take throughout our city,” she said.
Coun. Buchanan said he has mixed feelings over the issue because the initiative comes with a hefty price tag and he somewhat questions whether it is actually improving safety on city streets.
Buchanan said if they were to use that logic they should double the number of photo radar vans in the city.
Other councillors said they should trust the recommendation made by former Supt. Warren Dosko to add a third vehicle to improve safety.
Coun. Harris said this is one strategy of many the city can do to improve safety. He said anything that can improve safety on the streets is worth doing.
“I’d really like to see some red light cameras around here,” said Harris. “There’s too many people running red lights and too many people dying at intersections.”
The photo radar equipment and van comes with a one-time $300,000 cost and ongoing cost of $6,093 in future budgets.
With traffic fine revenues of $1.6 million generated in 2013, the city could reap $800,000 over two years if everyone paid their tickets.
In 2011, when the second photo van was put on the streets, the city estimated there would be $1.8 million more in revenue, doubling the revenue of the existing photo radar van. This target has never been reached.
Handley said the city should adjust its expectations and stay the course with the two vans.
Greg Scott, director of Community Services, told council this shortfall is owed to a number of factors including weather, delays in leasing the van and that motorists may be slowing down.
He stressed to council that the issue is about safety not making money.
Council adopted a subsequent motion directing administration to develop a traffic safety plan identifying various strategies, including photo radar, as a means of bringing about traffic safety.
The RCMP have reported a 35 per cent reduction of injury collisions from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31, 2013 with the second radar van in action.
Acting Supt. David Elliott said the photo radar van is one tool in the fight to keep Red Deer streets safer. He said the rate remains very high but they are working to get those numbers down.
“It’s a good tool to use in places where it is not safe to do traffic enforcement or have an officer stop a vehicle,” said Elliott. “This could back up traffic and make it unsafe for the motorists and the police officers.”
Council also asked the audit committee to add a process for monitoring and reporting of the fine revenue shortfalls to its 2014 work plan. The recommendations will come to council at the mid-year budget review.
The fine revenue program will be monitored for the first six months of 2014 and a report brought back to the 2014 mid-year budget review, if additional support is required.
Council did not approve any new funding on Monday and the proposed budget stands at $305 million with a projected 3.93 per cent municipal tax increase.
In other budget news:
Council approved $105,000 for downtown initiatives that include another summer of the Ross Street Patio. Councillors Tanya Handley and Frank Wong voted against the funding because they were not sold on the patio’s existing location. Later this year, the city will be seeking public input on the project including whether the patio should stay up in the winter months.