Montgomery Co. senator wants to halt speed camera bounties

WASHINGTON – In Montgomery County, 40 percent of each $40 speed camera ticket goes to the camera vendor. But state lawmakers want those per-ticket vendor fees to disappear.

How vendors are compensated is latest squabble over the controversial speed cameras, which motorists say are inaccurate in some jurisdictions. Baltimore in particular has been plagued by complaints.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has chastised local governments for sending a portion of each speed camera ticket to the companies that operate the cameras. And now AAA and a state senator from Montgomery County are lining up to support changes to the speed camera law.

But D.C. area counties criticize the proposed changes, saying counties could no longer afford to keep the speed cameras running if they had to pay a flat fee or rent the cameras, especially as ticket revenues continue to drop off.

“The program is not designed for local governments or the state to make money. It’s designed to make people safer,” says Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Montgomery. “Some of the local jurisdictions have been concerned that revenues have gone down. To me that’s a very good sign. When revenues are going down it means that fewer people are speeding, and it means the roads are safer. That’s what we want to accomplish.”

But cities and county have found creative ways around state law, which was intended to prohibit a bounty-style system where vendors make more money, the more tickets are issued. And he expects numerous bills will be filed in the upcoming legislative session to clarify that a bounty system is illegal, he says.

In Maryland, a portion of each $40 speed camera ticket goes to the company supplying the cameras. The portion varies by county from 37 percent of each ticket in Prince George’s County to about 19 percent in Howard County.

John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, hopes the legislature will address the administration of the speed cameras as well as improve the amount of information available to motorists who choose to fight the tickets in court.

“There should be arms-length distance between the police department and the vendor,” Townsend says. “Why are we farming out an arm of law enforcement to a private sector vendor? That raises questions about the integrity of the program.”

But officials from Howard, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties all tell WTOP that each county operates the cameras, not the vendors, and therefore they are complying with state law.

“The vendor payment issue is tied directly to which organization runs the program – the vendor or the law enforcement agency,” Howard County spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn writes in an email to WTOP. “In Howard County, the vendor does not operate the program on our behalf – the police department operates the program.”

Llewellyn says its vendor, Xerox, has no control over the number of images taken, the number of violations sent or how much money is collected. The police decide when and where to place the cameras and approve the citations before they are mailed.

Howard County uses a tiered payment system for Xerox, which earns less per ticket the more tickets are issued, she says.

WTOP’s Ari Ashe contributed to this report. Follow @AriAsheWTOP and WTOP on Twitter.

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