A dip in revenue: Photo radar remits dramatically decrease in FY 2017-18

The Town of Paradise Valley installed photo radar in 1987. Today, there are five locations in the municipality, which has yielded a much lower level of revenue than in years past primarily due to expenditure cost to process each ticket. (File photo)

The Town of Paradise Valley’s historic photo radar system yielded the lowest net revenue accrued in the past five fiscal years, records show.

While funds collected from tickets issued to speeders and red-light runners has topped $1 million in recent years, fiscal year 2017-18 saw only $147,040 in fees.

In 1987, the Paradise Valley Police Department became the first agency in the nation to utilize photo enforcement. At that time, the Town Council authorized the use of photo enforcement in direct response to a steady increase of collisions in town.

Now, there are five fixed photo enforcement locations, with two mobile photo enforcement vans, whose deployment locations vary.

Paradise Valley remits collected from photo radar goes to the town’s General Fund, and is considered part of public safety, according to Paradise Valley Police Department Lt. Michael Cole.

“The primary goal for photo radar is to improve public safety and with behavior changes it is expected that violations will decrease over time,” Lt. Cole said. “Photo radar is cost-effective, as photo radar revenues decrease, so do associated costs.”

A recent public records request shows the town’s funds stemming from photo radar are:

  • 2013-14: $414,206
  • 2014-15: $962,337
  • 2015-16: $1,939,206
  • 2016-17: $1,017,206
  • 2017-18: $147,040.

According to the Paradise Valley Municipal Court, there were 47,651 photo enforcement tickets filed in fiscal year 2016-17, and 47,665 photo enforcement tickets in 2017-18.

In total, fiscal year 2017-18’s initial revenue was $1,551,491 with direct expenditures of $1,404,452, resulting in the town’s funds equaling $147,040.

The data shows the town’s revenue was lower than recent years in 2017-18 as well, but the Redflex fee, process service fee and court and prosecutor direct expenses all increased that year.

The process service fee increased from $11,986 in 2016-17 to $87,204 in 2017-18.

The increase in process service fee is due to a 2016 Arizona Attorney General opinion, which required photo enforcement vendors to acquire Private Investigator’s licenses to process violations, Lt. Cole said.

Paradise Valley Police Lt. Mike Cole

“This resulted in the Town of Paradise Valley halting sending out any violations until Redflex was in compliance with the AG opinion,” he said. “Once they were in compliance they began processing violations again. This resulted in backlogs in process service that carried over from 2016-17 to 2017-18.”

Redflex Traffic System’s Inc.’s fee per paid citation also increased from $572,057 to $662,854. Redflex partners with the town to provide the photo radar services and equipment.

“Speeding (11-15 MPH over the limit) was reduced from $242 a violation to $217 and (16-20 MPH over the limit) was reduced to $260 from $293,” Lt. Cole explained of the town’s reduction in revenue from photo enforcement.

“In FY 2018-19 the town has installed four digital speed warning signs before our highest volume photo enforcement locations to try to slow traffic and increase safety.”

Lt. Cole says the police department has seen a significant reduction in photo enforcement violations at all locations after installation of the digital signs, and expects photo enforcement violations to be down as a result.

The town is not placed in a position that it is dependent on photo radar as a revenue source of its general town operations, Lt. Cole noted, stating that the decrease in photo radar revenues alone is not a detriment to the town’s financial position.

“However, should photo radar be discontinued, the town would realize a significant net cost increases in hiring additional personnel with other costs and budgetary challenges would materialize,” he said.

The fixed photo radar locations are:

  • East Lincoln Drive and Palo Cristi Road: both eastbound and westbound;
  • East Lincoln Drive and Tatum Boulevard: All four directions;
  • East Lincoln Drive and Mockingbird Lane: both eastbound and westbound;
  • North Tatum Boulevard and Desert Jewel Drive: both northbound and southbound; and
  • South Tatum Boulevard and East McDonald Drive: both northbound and southbound.

An effective tool

Police and town officials believe the town’s photo radar system improves safety on Paradise Valley streets.

In 2013 the Public Safety Task Force, a committee comprised of 50 residents, requested an expansion to the photo enforcement program. That expansion was completed, and in 2017 there were only 208 collisions reported in town, the Paradise Valley website states. A 50 percent overall reduction of traffic collisions from the numbers reported 30 years ago, considering the increasing population/traffic count and distraction of drivers, is a definite success, the website states.

Paradise Valley revenue from photo radar decreased from $1,017,206 in fiscal year 2016-17, to $147,040 in 2017-18. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

According to the website, there were a reported 400 traffic collisions in 1987, the year photo radar was first implemented.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner says he supports the photo radar program for a number of reasons, including its results and its practicality.

“The primary reason is it’s a really valuable tool to control speed in Paradise Valley,” Mr. Bien-Willner said, explaining that the photo radar allows the police department to monitor speed and driver behavior without creating unsafe roadway hazards.

“We have two main arterial roads, Tatum and Lincoln, used by residents and those traveling through town — neither is particularly suitable for a police officer to pull people over. Pulling people over in residential neighborhoods is not ideal, and there’s no shoulder on those roads unlike other areas. The photo radar is a technological tool that doesn’t have officer safety issues, like an officer being hit by a distracted driver.”

Without the photo radar, Mr. Bien-Willner says the town would be troubled to attempt to regular speed in a different way.

“The residential character of the community requires effective speed enforcement. In a limited government town, it would be a huge stress on our resources and safety issues to get officers out there to control speed,” he said.

“We saw a huge reduction in speeding because of it. I think we do a really good job of posting where those locations are — if someone gets caught, they’re basically not paying attention. The uniform response I hear, and behavior of drivers supports this, is you become aware of how fast you’re driving.”

Overall, the support the photo radar receives from Police Chief Peter Wingert is important to the mayor as well.

“The other thing that’s important is it’s supported by our chief and our department, and that’s important to me as well,” he said. “The professional law enforcement view it as an effective and valuable tool.”

The cost-benefit analysis of speed control using technology is not simply a money issue, Mr. Bien-Willner says.

Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner is supportive of the photo radar program, stating its a valuable tool for controlling speed within the Town of Paradise Valley. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

“As Mayor, I will always work to ensure the safety and security of everyone living in town or traveling through town, and I will also make sure that we are fiscally responsible and honor the Town’s limited government status,” he said.

“So, while I don’t foresee a situation where the use of safe technologies to discourage speeding becomes a financial problem for the town, I will always be mindful of the use of public funds, and putting taxpayer money to its best and most efficient use.”

The photo radar funds go into the town’s General Fund, and are considered part of public safety. The primary goal of photo radar is to improve public safety, town officials say, and should remits continue to decrease, the town’s budget would not be hindered by this loss of revenue.

“With the reduction of speeding that photo radar demonstrably causes over time, and the obvious signage for photo radar use in town, it is expected that violations will decrease over time,” Mr. Bien-Willner said.

“Photo radar is cost-effective, as photo radar revenues decrease, the associated variable costs and workload ratios can be realigned to match revenues. As such, the town is not placed in a position that is depending on photo radar as a revenue source for its general town operations; and decrease in photo radar revenues alone is not a detriment to the town’s financial position.”

News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be reached by e-mail at mrosequist@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Mrosequist_

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