Members of the City Council agreed that it simply doesn't make sense to pay $31,000 a month for a program that isn't being used - and might not even be legal.
The Council voted May 12 to reject an offer from the company it partnered with to implement the “Stop on Red” program that would have required the city to pay tens of thousands of dollars each month to keep the “Photo Cop” equipment in place while awaiting a court decision on the legality of the program.
The Council instead offered Redflex, the company it worked with to implement the program, $1 a month to continue its contract with the city and leave the equipment in place. It also authorized city staff to terminate the contract if Redflex refused the offer.
While councilmembers expressed interest in continuing the contract so the program could easily be reinstated in a time- and cost-efficient manner if the court decides it is legal, they agreed that it is not in the city's interest to pay thousands of dollars for a program that is currently not operating and therefore not generating revenue.
“It seems like a lot of money to carry a system that we're not using,” Councilmember Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) told the Committee of the Whole the day before the Council meeting.
A Hennepin County District Court judge ruled in March that the program, which captured images of motorists running through traffic lights, violates state law because it presumed the vehicle's owner was also the driver caught by the cameras. The city appealed the ruling and is expecting to hear the Appeals Court's decision by September. Redflex offered to reduce the city's contractual monthly payments by 60 percent - from $77,000 to $31,000 - until the court decision comes back. But without the program generating money through traffic violation tickets, councilmembers said they couldn't justify paying that much each month.
“We should not put the taxpayers at further risk,” said Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward).
If the contract with Redflex is terminated and the Appeals Court later rules in favor of the city, Minneapolis would have to issue another request for proposals and repeat the process of selecting a company to work with on the program. Minneapolis Police Lt. Greg Reinhardt, the manager of the camera program, said that would cause significant delays in getting the program re-implemented because the equipment can't be installed in the winter months. He also noted that the “Stop on Red” program was a very effective public safety tool. In its first six months, the program has been linked to a 16-percent drop in traffic accidents, according to Police Department statistics.
“It's a very good program,” Reinhardt said. “It worked, and it did exactly what we set out to do.”
He emphasized that the Council's move did not reflect on the performance of Redflex. The company has been a good business partner for the city, Reinhardt said. He added that it will likely take at least several weeks for Redflex to respond to the city's $1-a-month contract offer.
But councilmembers said they are willing to risk having to repeat the search for a company to help operate the “Photo Cop” program. Some councilmembers said they supported the idea of seeing whether other cities - such as St. Paul and Bloomington - that had expressed interest in the “Stop on Red” program before Minneapolis' effort was ruled illegal would be interested in setting up a joint agreement with a private company if the Appeals Court rules that the program is legal. They said several cities working together with a company could make the program more cost-efficient.
Councilmember Sandy Colvin Roy (12th Ward) said she is interested in maintaining the city's current contract with Redflex only if it is at no cost to the city. She said she hopes Redflex will accept the $1-a-month offer.
“If not, the contract has a termination clause in it that we can exercise,” she said. “It's as simple as that.”
Kari VanDerVeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 436-4373.