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Wilmington spending $400,000 more on red-light cameras than program is making

Updated: May. 18, 2021 at 4:46 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - An item that will be brought up at Wilmington’s City Council meeting tonight has some asking questions about the city’s red light camera system and whether the program is really worth it.

Todd Platzer has had a lot of questions about the city’s red-light cameras over the years, even bringing them to light at a city council meeting.

“Certainly, I want to know why they’re not adopting the new yellow light duration,” said Platzer. “I think it should be longer. Physics has proven that for decades. And why aren’t they certified by engineers? That seems easy enough.”

On Tuesday, his concerns were raised again when he heard about Tuesday night’s Council meeting on the budget.

In order for local governments to use the camera systems, 90 percent of the revenue has to go to the area’s school district. At tonight’s meeting, Wilmington’s city council will go over the city’s budget that shows the program costs about $1.4 million but only produces a little over $1 million in revenue.

“I’m concerned about where the money goes,” Platzer says. “They say that 90 percent goes to the schools, but there’s an interlocal agreement that kicks back a significant amount of money to American Traffic Solutions, the private company that runs the red-light camera program.”

The city says he’s not entirely wrong; that private company does get a cut of the money they budget for the program, but the city makes sure the school gets the full amount of money they’re due.

“By state law, 90 percent of the proceeds from red-light citations go to the school system,” said city spokesperson Dylan Lee. “The majority of the money collected goes to the school system and the additional money pays for the provider that provides the services. They maintain the cameras, the systems and the whole environment around the red-light cameras.”

New Hanover County Schools says it has received $2,510,863 in the last three school years from the red light camera program.

New Hanover County Schools has received $2.5 million from the SafeLight program since 2018.
New Hanover County Schools has received $2.5 million from the SafeLight program since 2018.(New Hanover County Schools)

For every $50 ticket the city collects, the schools get $45 and the city only keeps $5. That means the program won’t pay for itself, leaving a significant deficit the city and county have to make up for.

“The city and county share a 50/50 split on that,” said Lee. “They both agree to keep the program going because it does save lives and is a safety program.”

As for whether or not those cameras work, Lee says there was a noticeable drop in the number of red-light accidents when those cameras were first installed years ago. He says that’s proof enough that it saves lives, which is why the city and county have been okay with its partnership in spending more than they’re making on that program.

Tonight’s city council meeting starts at 6:30 p.m.

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