Lynnwood extends traffic camera contract through November

LYNNWOOD — The cameras will keep rolling until November.

Lynnwood officials now, though, can pull the plug at any time.

The city long has struggled with the controversy surrounding its aggressive use of traffic-enforcement cameras. The cameras bring in millions and buoy the city budget, but much debate continues over whether they actually bring safety and save lives.

City Council members were supposed to decide in late 2011 whether to renew the multimillion-dollar camera contract another five years. Instead, they approved a temporary extension so a lawyer could finish investigating the police department’s relationship with the vendor, American Traffic Solutions Inc. of Arizona.

The lawyer found that some of the communications were troubling, but nothing that broke laws or was a clear violation of the city’s ethics code.

Last week, council members voted unanimously to extend the camera contract again through Nov. 13, 2012.

“It was really to give ourselves time to look at it more thoroughly,” councilman Mark Smith said Monday.

City leaders want to consider all of the pieces of the program before deciding whether to continue it, Smith said. They also may choose to accept bids from a different traffic-camera vendor.

The extension also says the city can terminate the agreement or any part of it “without cause and for any reason, including the city’s convenience.”

Lynnwood police last year said the inclusion of a so-called escape clause was a major goal in negotiating a new contract. Elsewhere in Snohomish County and the U.S., cities have had little luck ending traffic-enforcement camera programs without landing themselves in expensive civil litigation.

In the meantime, past and present city leaders have admitted the city has become dependent on the cash from the cameras. Ticket revenues amounted to more than $4 million in 2010, though court officials say the money has been decreasing over time.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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