Bluff City speed cameras’ shutdown to create revenue hole – mayor says safety was main priority

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BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Bluff City, Tenn.’s speed cameras will shut down Jan. 7 after generating millions of dollars for the town since their debut in 2010.

A state law that went into effect in 2015 spelled the eventual end of such cameras, other than in school zones. Bluff City’s contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS), the camera provider, ends next month. Mayor Irene Wells said the company has 45 days to remove its infrastructure after the cameras — one facing each direction on U.S. Highway 11-E near its intersection with Poplar Ridge Road — are turned off.

Wells said motorists can expect stepped up enforcement in the 45-mile-per-hour zone by town police. “The thing that really concerns us is the safety of the citizens, so they will be checking the speed more often than they were before, especially in that specific area.”

Net speed camera revenue has been the largest share of Bluff City’s general fund budget.

Whether fines from officer-written tickets will come close to making up the camera revenues in the town of 1,700 is an open question. The city, which splits those revenues roughly evenly with ATS, netted $355,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2018. That was the town’s largest single revenue source, and netting out the ATS share of expenses, accounted for 21.7 percent of the budget.

Wells said police writing tickets should offset some of the loss, and that town leaders already made some adjustments when the 2014 state law that sunsetted the cameras once contracts ended also immediately decreased the maximum ticket amount from $90 to $50.

“We were getting a large portion of the $90, but when the tickets went down to $50, that’s a big thing, so we were not depending as much on the cameras,” Wells said.

Bluff City Mayor Irene Wells.

Bluff City’s total budgeted expenditures in fiscal 2012, when tickets were $90, were just under $2.3 million. In fiscal 2017, after the law change, budgeted expenses were just above $1.5 million.

The current fiscal year’s projected revenues, with just six months’ worth of ATS revenue, are $1,650,730, down from $1,932,775 in fiscal 2019.

Add to the town’s post-2015 budget adjustments the significantly higher charges for an officer-written ticket and Wells said she’s not terribly concerned.

“When you look at what we’re receiving from speed cameras, versus it’s like $160 (for an officer-written ticket) and if they don’t pay their ticket it’ll be three hundred and some dollars, so we feel like we’re going to be fine.”

Estimated gross camera revenues for fiscal 2019, which ended June 30, were $665,000, equating to roughly 13,000 tickets, or 36 per day. Even at six times the net revenue per ticket, officers would have to write six tickets daily to bridge the gap.

Mayor Irene Wells expects officers to step up enforcement.

“We don’t look for people to stop speeding just because the camera’s gone,” Wells said. “We feel like they’ll be doing it more.”

Wells said she wants to avoid a return to what she said was a more dangerous past.

“The camera was not put there specifically for money. It was put there for safety because we were having so many accidents.”

Even though the town adjusted to the smaller share of camera revenue several years ago, the new year will definitely bring some revelations for Bluff City, Wells said.

“I feel like the officers are going to have to work harder to keep the citizens safe, and we’re going to have to be more mindful of how we spend our money.”

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