Arlington seeks to block registrations of red-light violators

05/27/2014 12:58 PM

05/27/2014 11:21 PM

With unpaid fines from motorists caught by red-light cameras topping $2.5 million, the city intends to strike a deal with Tarrant County to withhold vehicle registrations from scofflaws until they pay up.

The Arlington City Council voted 9-0 Tuesday to approve an interlocal agreement with the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector’s office designed to clear about 37,000 delinquent red-light-camera violations. The fine is $75.

Under the proposal, the city would pay the county $5.24 for every violation that is paid up.

The Tarrant County Commissioners Court has not voted on the plan. Arlington would be the first city to pay the county to help with its red-light-violation collections, but Fort Worth and other cities are considering it, Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright said.

“This fee covers the county’s cost for dealing with the customer twice — once when they come to get their registration renewed and it is blocked because of an outstanding fine, and the second time after the fine is paid and they get the registration,” Wright said.

Arlington started its red-light-camera program in 2007. Half of the $75 fine goes to the state. The other half, after expenses, goes into Arlington’s general fund, which pays for services such as police, fire, parks and libraries, officials have said. Some revenue is also used to fund DWI enforcement.

Since 2009, a state law has allowed tax assessor-collectors to refuse to register vehicles for owners whose accounts are flagged by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles as having unpaid red-light-camera violations. But Wright, who became Tarrant County’s assessor-collector in 2011, has refused to implement the program unless cities pay for the additional service.

Wright said the service causes additional work for his clerks, who also have to deal with angry customers.

Arlington’s camera system, operated by the contractor American Traffic Solutions, uses radar technology to determine the speed of vehicles approaching an intersection. The camera system is activated if the system detects that a motorist is about to run a red light. A part-time police officer reviews and confirms violations.

According to a 2011 audit, right-angle crashes at camera-monitored intersections in Arlington decreased 31 percent, and rear-end crashes declined 17 percent.

The program has brought about $10 million in revenue to Arlington. That doesn’t include this budget year, when $2 million is expected.

The city staff estimated that the new collection arrangement could net the city about $150,000 next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

The contractor also works with a collections agency on delinquent payments.

Arlington resident Kelly Canon, who opposes red-light cameras, protested the city’s collection agreement with the county.

“They are using this as a cash cow even though they stated their primary goal was for our safety,” Canon said. “When you start to have to go after the money in another way, to hold our registrations hostage, that is a whole different animal.”

Canon said she’s organizing a petition drive with the hope of placing a referendum on the November ballot so residents can vote on whether to ban red-light cameras. She also plans to lobby state legislators for a ban next session.

“This flies in the face of small government vs. big government. This is an Orwellian nightmare,” Canon said.

Wright noted that the Legislature created both the red-light-camera fines and the scofflaw hold and that the state, not cities, receives most of a red-light-camera fine.

“People who don’t like the fines or the scofflaw component should contact their state legislators,” Wright said.

For the first time in years, people attending the council meeting were screened with metal detectors as they entered City Hall.

Last month, the council voted unanimously to ban weapons or simulated weapons from city buildings where public meetings are being held.

In recent months, several council meetings have been attended by members of Open Carry Tarrant County, a gun-rights group whose members have demonstrated in front of City Hall while carrying rifles, shotguns and pre-1899 black-powder revolvers or replicas.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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