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PR prepares for changes to red-light camera tickets

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Published:   |   Updated: May 31, 2013 at 01:48 PM

PORT RICHEY - Sticker shock could confront area drivers who appeal the city's red-light camera tickets in the future, when maximum fines could reach $408.

Tuesday night, city council discussed hiring a special magistrate to hear the challenges after July 1. The automated cameras snap pictures of violators running red traffic signals.

State lawmakers passed legislation last month shifting the appeals to local hearing officers to decrease the backlog of court cases. Gov. Rick Scott has yet to sign the legislation into law, although City Manager Tom O'Neill predicts he will.

The new system means the city could add up to $250 in administrative fees on top of the standard fine of $158, City Attorney Joseph Poblick explained.

The city splits the money with the state from the $158 fine, Poblick said. The city, however, would keep all of the extra money to cover its appeal-related expenses.

The city logs about 60 appeals a month now of citations the red-light cameras generate, Poblick estimated. The fees and fines under the new setup could discourage drivers from taking risks to challenge the tickets, he believes.

O'Neill said he has talked with officials in New Port Richey, which also has red-light cameras, about possibly sharing the costs of hiring a special magistrate.

The magistrate would most likely be paid a flat rate per hour, interim New Port Richey City Manager Susan Dillinger said Wednesday.

Local attorneys probably would fill the new role, she said.

If the governor does not sign the legislation, New Port Richey would still proceed with a special magistrate for other functions, Dillinger added.

Other changes in the state law would give drivers twice as long, or 60 days, to decide between paying the basic $158 fine or contesting the citation, O'Neill pointed out.

The amendments also strive to clear up confusion when the owner of a vehicle lends it to another driver. The new process would allow the owner to submit an affidavit that he was not behind the steering wheel when the red-light camera took the picture.

The ticket would be renamed as a notice of violation in the future, not a uniform traffic citation. The driver would only get a uniform traffic citation if he failed to do anything after 60 days.

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