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Kent school traffic cameras catch nearly 5,000 speeding drivers

Cameras positioned along 64th Avenue South have caught their share of drivers breaking the 20-mph limit near Neely-O
Cameras positioned along 64th Avenue South have caught their share of drivers breaking the 20-mph limit near Neely-O'Brien Elementary School.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

Nearly 5,000 drivers were caught speeding in two Kent school zones during the first six months of the city's new traffic camera program.

Cameras caught 4,968 drivers breaking the 20 mph limit near Neely-O'Brien Elementary and Sunrise Elementary from January through June, according to Kent Municipal Court records.

The city could receive as much as $869,000 in ticket revenue from the six months when all of the cases are eventually closed. So far, the city has received $482,200 in revenue with 2,965 cases closed. Another 2,003 cases remain open.

The cameras go into operation again when Kent schools open Thursday, Aug. 28. Kent only has cameras at two school zones.

Even minus the city costs of $120,000 to operate the program for the six months, Kent could take in $749,000 when or if all tickets are paid in full.

The expenses include $114,000 to Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions (ATS), Inc., which contracted with the city to provide the camera services that include the equipment as well as mailing out tickets. ATS contracts with Des Moines, Seattle, Federal Way, Issaquah and more than 300 other communities in 21 states to provide traffic camera services.

The other costs include $4,710 for Kent Police overtime work to review the tickets and $1,640 for court and temporary help, said Aaron BeMiller, city finance director.

"The figures represent only the direct costs associated with the program (court temporary help, police overtime and contractual costs) and do not include any indirect expenses (legal/court/other) which are not coded directly to this program," BeMiller said.

BeMiller also explained the difference between the potential total revenue of nearly $1 million and the $482,000 figure.

"The $869,000 amount is the total amount of citations issued and the $482,000 amount is the actual revenue received through June," he said. "Individuals who receive a citation have the opportunity to offer any mitigating circumstances to a judge. From an accounting perspective, the city does not presume payment of citations and therefore we do not book these citation amounts in the accounting system as a receivable. Rather, the city only books revenue from these citations when payment has been received."

Of the 2,965 cases closed, drivers paid 2,049 tickets, according to court records. Another 636 resulted in mitigation hearings and 341 in contested hearings to reach the $482,000 amount paid.

In a contested hearing, a driver feels they did not commit the infraction and would like to contest it to the judge, said Margaret Yetter, court administrator. She said rarely are these found to be not committed due to the video of the incident. The hearing could result in a fine reduction.

In mitigation hearings, the driver admits they committed the infraction but would like to explain the circumstances. Typically, there will be a fine reduction with this type of hearing, Yetter said.

Cameras take a video and still images of a speeding vehicle from behind. Speed is measured by sensors in the road. After review by a police officer, ATS staff will send a ticket to the vehicle's registered owner. The cameras only take images of the vehicle and license plate, not the driver or passengers.

City officials started the program in January at the request of Kent School District officials in an effort to slow drivers and protect children walking to and from school in the morning and afternoon.

Councilman Jim Berrios said the results of the program's first six months would be discussed at the Sept. 9 Public Safety Committee at City Hall. Berrios, who chairs the committee that oversees the traffic camera program, said he had hoped the numbers of cited drivers would be lower.

"That's about 475 per month on average and we've only had it since January," Berrios said. "That's pretty disturbing."

Berrios said the net revenue from the tickets would be put into a reserve account to cover future costs of the program.

"After the first or second years the numbers drop and it costs the city money," Berrios said. "We'll use the money to pay for the system."

It bothers Berrios that 2,048 drivers were 10 mph or more over the 20 mph school speed limit.

"That becomes real serious," he said. "We have plans to go over the information (Sept. 9). We still have issues. It takes someone to get a ticket to understand they better slow down."

Berrios said the revenue and costs of the program need to be examined closely to determine the actual amount of net revenue.

A total of 2,616 speeding tickets were issued at the Neely-O'Brien school zone at 64th Avenue South and South 236th Street. A total of 2,356 were issued in the Sunrise school zone in the 22300 block of 132nd Avenue Southeast on the East Hill. The two schools were chosen for cameras by city staff because traffic studies showed more speeding violations at those schools than others in the district.

City officials last fall estimated ticket revenue at $421,000 (after costs) based on an entire school year. Problems with the camera equipment delayed the start of the program to January from last August. City staff estimated costs at $150,000 for a full year including $97,000 to ATS for the four cameras; $20,000 for pay to police officers to review the video; $26,000 for court staff; and $7,000 for city legal staff.

Police officers who review video receive overtime pay so that officers are not taken off the street and current service levels are maintained, city officials said.

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School traffic camera speeding tickets

(January-June 2014)

• 2,920 (1 to 9 mph over), $124 fine

• 2,048 (10 mph or more over, $248 fine

• 4,968 total tickets

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