Lynnwood council extends red-light camera contract

LYNNWOOD — A decision on the future of red-light cameras in Lynnwood could be pushed into January 2018.

The City Council recently approved an extension of the current contract into January 2017. At the same time, the council kept open an option to extend the contract for another year after that.

Lynnwood’s partnership with the private traffic-enforcement camera company is based on an agreement held by the city of Seattle, and Seattle is negotiating its own contract renewal.

Lynnwood uses automated cameras to issue tickets to people who run red lights or speed in school zones. It is the only city in Snohomish County that does so. Lynnwood officials long have claimed the devices increase safety. They also acknowledge they don’t have local data to support that hypothesis.

The cameras in 2015 brought in $2.76 million in revenue for Lynnwood’s general fund. Of that, $648,000 went to the vendor, Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions.

Current and former city officials often have bristled at questions about the camera contract and revenues. Earlier this month, former Councilman Sid Roberts wrote a letter to the editor, saying the newspaper should dial back its reporting.

The contract was set to expire in November. The new extension was approved Oct. 10.

The councilmembers had indicated they wanted to take a small step before a larger one, assistant city administrator Art Ceniza said at an Oct. 3 public meeting.

The delay “gives Seattle the time to do all the hard work,” council President M. Christopher Boyer said.

Councilman George Hurst noted that if the cameras were discontinued next year, “we’ve now created quite a hole in the budget.” The city’s 2017-2018 budget, which is still in draft form, assumes continued camera revenue.

Hurst said he was worried about what he perceived to be an assumption that the contract would be renewed without discussion by the full council. The initial talks earlier this year happened within the finance committee, a subset of the council.

“We’ve had lots of time,” Hurst said. “We know this was coming up, and I wish we had discussed it before crunch time.”

Boyer told him the process had been discussed enough, to the point of nausea. In the future, the council will have to make the policy decision and “deal with the impact, positive or negative, on the budget,” Boyer said.

Councilman Ian Cotton, who this year had been pushing for the council to review local crash data as part of the decision, told his peers he is resting his argument. He said he is satisfied with a national study that was promoted by the city. That study found that removing cameras in other cities led to an increase in crashes. The study was funded by automotive insurers.

A separate review of Lynnwood crash data, which is being conducted in connection with the contract talks, is ongoing by the police department. No update on that review was available this week.

State law in some cases requires cities that use the devices to make public annual reports of crash and citation data. In September, a Lake Forest Park man filed paperwork with Lynnwood, threatening to bring a federal class-action lawsuit. He alleges that the city is violating the law by not posting the reports online. City officials have declined to comment while the claim for damages is pending.

Lynnwood’s school-zone speed cameras are under a separate contract that continues through June 2018.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; Twitter: @rikkiking.

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