116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS - Speed and red light traffic ticket cameras around Iowa aren't going anywhere just yet, and it could mean an unexpected windfall for Cedar Rapids officials to spend.
This year's legislative session began with near guarantees that automated photo enforcement cameras would be banned under a Republican controlled House, Senate and governorship. But by March, the bill's language was modified from a ban to more regulation, but then that stalled before the session ended Saturday.
'The Legislature did not address or change the status of cameras, so it's another year of status quo,” Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett said.
However, Cedar Rapids already eliminated $4.7 million in expected traffic camera revenue from its fiscal 2018 budget in anticipation of a ban. now it must decide what to do with the unexpected proceeds.
Cedar Rapids by far generates the most revenue from traffic cameras among Iowa's eight cities and Polk County that use them, according to state figures. The 28 cameras in Cedar Rapids fired off 154,323 tickets and the city collected $4.4 million in fiscal 2016, compared with 81,577 and $2.5 million by the nine cameras in Des Moines. Davenport issued the third most with 39,986, and collected $1.9 million from 14 cameras in calendar year 2016.
Corbett prefers spending the unexpected revenue on one-time expenses such as road or sewer infrastructure instead of absorbing it in the general fund for ongoing operations.
He said this is because a bill - either a ban or regulations - could resurface in the 2018 Legislature and the city would have to go through the exercise again of balancing its budget.
Cedar Rapids spokeswoman Maria Johnson said staff plans to recommend the money go to police operations, which is part of the general fund, but did not know more specifically which budget area could see an extra allotment.
A court case between Cedar Rapids, Muscatine and Des Moines on one side and the Iowa Department of Transportation on the other could be a factor affecting the circumstances for traffic camera rules.
The Iowa DOT had ordered several cameras around the state be taken down in 2015, but the three cities sued. They contend among other things the Iowa DOT lacks jurisdiction over how local authorities enforce traffic laws.
A ruling has not been made in the case.
Corbett attributed the accounts of law enforcement officials, including Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman, for changing the hearts and minds of lawmakers who wanted a ban. They made an effective case of how traffic cameras are valuable tools for public safety, he said. With traffic fatalities on the rise in Iowa and law enforcement staffs short-handed, they need the extra help from technology, he said.
The Senate passed legislation in March that would regulate the cameras, but the session ended before the House settled a debate over a ban versus regulation.
State Rep. Ashley Hinson, R-Marion, served on the House subcommittee that considered the issue. She said she supports regulating the cameras and sees the matter resurfacing next year.
'Areas where you have them and people understand what they do support the cameras,” she said. 'Areas that don't have them, it's easier to say just ban them.”
State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, said he believes some opponents were swayed by the challenges of enforcing traffic laws on high-volume road or in areas dangerous to patrol, such as the S-curve in Cedar Rapids.
'I don't think the Legislature will ban them because they are a public safety tool,” Hogg said.
State Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, who has championed a ban, did not return messages.
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