WASHINGTON – For every $40 speed camera fine collected in Montgomery County, except in the Village of Chevy Chase, the contractor of the cameras, ACS Inc., gets a $16.25 cut of that fine.
Now, Maryland’s highest court has agreed to hear a lawsuit centered on this issue. In Baker vs. Montgomery County, a number of plaintiffs argue that the per ticket fee is a violation of state law, and that it encourages a financial incentive to issue tickets.
Maryland’s Court of Appeals will hear the case in June.
“I think there is a lot of danger in that kind of arrangement,” Attorney Tim Leahy of Bowie-based Byrd and Byrd LLC said.
If a contractor operates a speed monitoring system on behalf of a local jurisdiction, the contractor’s fee may not be contingent on the number of citations issued or paid, according to Maryland State law.
Police departments in Montgomery County argue that ACS is not the operator of the program, and that the company just installs and maintains the cameras.
Police departments say they are the operators of the program, and therefore they are not violating state law.
“We manage the entire operation,” Montgomery County Police Captain Paul Starks said. “The vendor provided a turn-key operation with equipment and installation of each site.”
A 2009 review of the county’s Safe Speed program found that “the terms of the county’s contract comply with State law.”
Leahy says it doesn’t add up.
“That’s silly. Just because they want to say that (ACS) isn’t the operator, that doesn’t mean ACS isn’t setting up the system, doing some of the calibration, handling the tickets that come in, processing the tickets and reviewing whether or not the data on the bottom of the pictures is correct,” he said.
The Village of Chevy Chase has switched its contract with ACS, and now pays a flat fee of $58,000 a month for the service.
“We do understand that these cameras are unpopular for many people,” Chevy Chase Village Police Chief John Fitzgerald said.
But he said that’s not why the Village went to a flat fee system.
“When we put out our (most recent) contract for this system, we said the proposals should include different cost structures. This is a cost structure that is beneficial to the Village,” Fitzgerald said.
The fact that the Court of Appeals is taking up the case is significant, according to Leahy.
“The Court is saying ‘There’s something here that we feel is important enough that we need to step in and make a statement,'” he said.