Collection agency letters distributed just days before Christmas didn’t bolster the city of Cedar Rapids’ argument that its automated traffic cameras primarily are for safety.
Two days before the holiday, Cedar Rapids officials authorized Michigan-based Municipal Collections Agency of America to issue more than 220,000 notices to individuals with unpaid camera tickets. Those receiving the letters were told to pay their original fines of $75 per ticket within 45 days or face a 25 percent increase to $93.75 when the tickets are turned over to a state offset program.
The outstanding revenues are not insignificant — $17.3 million in unpaid fines since the camera program launched in 2010, with less than half ($7.4 million) due to city coffers after the camera company and collections agency take their percentages. As state policy and legal challenges surrounding the cameras have inched forward, fewer people receiving camera citations have opted to pay.
“We feel what still is owed is due to the city and should be paid,” said Casey Drew, Cedar Rapids finance director. “It’s fair to the people who’ve already paid their tickets for everyone else to pay.”
But an upcoming decision by the Iowa Supreme Court could include an order for the city to reimburse motorists who were ticketed by cameras the Department of Transportation says are placed in defiance of its rules.
And although seeking to collect fines is somewhat understandable, the optics of collection letters at Christmas will not ingratiate city officials to state lawmakers, especially those who prefer a statewide ban on traffic cameras.
This Editorial Board has, on multiple occasions, sided with the city in relation to the automated cameras. We have done so because we believe the cameras have improved safety, especially surrounding the dicey S-curve on Interstate 380 downtown. When lawmakers considered a total ban, we’ve advocated for compromise. We’ve urged the city to work alongside the DOT to find creative solutions to the ongoing standoff, to keep the debate centered on what’s important: safety.
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Issuance of more than 220,000 demands for money gives credence to those who say need for revenue has outpaced desire for safety. And the timing could not have been worse.
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