State's jurisdictions learning from Montgomery speed camera lawsuit
Mooney, others foresaw looming legal issues
Several Maryland jurisdictions that have or are considering speed cameras to ticket drivers say they are paying close attention to a class-action lawsuit filed in Montgomery County.
At issue is whether the county has been operating its speed camera program illegally by paying its contractor per ticket.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard June 30 in Montgomery County Circuit Court.
Maryland law states, "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."
Besides Montgomery County, local jurisdictions Rockville, Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase Village, which operate their own speed camera programs, are named in the lawsuit.
Maryland Sen. Alex X. Mooney (R-Dist. 3), who has long opposed speed cameras, says he hopes the lawsuit is successful and that the county and others are forced to end their speed-camera programs.
"It's exactly one of the many things we were worried about," Mooney said of the lawsuit's claims. "And [Montgomery County's practice] does violate the intent of the law. We specifically said during discussions and debate that we did not want to provide financial incentives for these companies to ticket people."
But Montgomery County spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield says the county's program is legal.
Under a contract with Texas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., the county pays the company $16.25 per ticket.
Lacefield said the Montgomery County Police Department reviews all county tickets before they are issued, and ACS has no involvement in deciding which tickets to issue.
ACS declined to comment on the lawsuit or its role in the county's speed camera program.
Baltimore city also has a contract with ACS and compensates the company for each citation that is paid, said Kathy Chopper, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Transportation.
"Our vendor only gets paid if we get paid," she said.
Chopper said the city has not been following the Montgomery County lawsuit, but that Baltimore's program is legal.
"I would think that if they are getting paid per ticket, it would give them the incentive to issue more tickets, but since they are only getting paid per paid ticket, they are only being paid for actual violators," Chopper said.
That means ACS is not paid for tickets that are discarded or thrown out in court, she said.
The city has issued 10,149 speeding citations since November, when the program began, she said. The fine for receiving a speed camera ticket is $40, but Chopper said not all drivers pay.
Prince George's County officials have decided to scale back a plan to install speed cameras after they realized that vendor costs would cut into the bulk of profits, spokesman John E. Erzen said.
After paying a vendor, the county only would receive about $2 from a $40 citation, he said.
"That's an issue where you were going to be putting an extra burden on citizens and then taxing them in a way and not getting any revenue to reinvest for the citizens," Erzen said.
Instead of installing as many as 40 stationary cameras, the county now is exploring the placement of about eight mobile speed cameras in school zones.
That program, Erzen said, would be run entirely by the county, and would not require a contractor to be involved.
"Hopefully, we would not run into those same issues," Erzen said of the Montgomery County lawsuit. "We certainly had a concern about the funding and the incentive for the contractor. It seemed to be more of a revenue generator for private industry, rather than public safety for county resources. We wanted to shift more to a public safety program."
Frederick city is moving forward with a speed-camera program, and Frederick Police Lt. Steve Tuel said bids were received this week from five vendors interested in operating the city's program. Tuel would not name the vendors.
However, Tuel said the city is more likely to pay the vendor a flat fee that isn't based on the number of tickets issued.
"The way we understand the law, it can't be per ticket," Tuel said. "There has to be another fee arrangement."
However, some jurisdictions say they can pay a vendor based on ticket volume as long as the vendor doesn't operate the speed cameras.
In New Carrollton in Prince George's County, police Chief David Rice says the town pays a contractor a quarterly fee based on ticket volume. However, the town is responsible for the operations of its two speed cameras making the program legal.
Rice said he is aware of the Montgomery County lawsuit.
"We operate it ourselves," he said of the program. "[The contractor] isn't allowed to touch [the cameras]."