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If school zone cams are really just for safety, then why not a separate fund for ticket revenues?

The Seattle City Council is considering a plan to keep all revenues from school zone cameras in a separate fund and using the money exclusively on safety projects. But Mayor Mike McGinn wants the money kept in the general fund. (KIRO Radio/Chris Sullivan)

If school zone cameras are supposed to be solely for safety, then why does Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn want the money to stay in the general fund where it can be spent on anything?

That was the question as the City Council voted unanimously Monday to create a special fund for the money, which would require every cent be spent on road and pedestrian safety projects around schools, The Seattle Times reports.

“The mayor wants that money to stay in the general fund because he’s the mayor of the city. He’s trying to balance various budgets,” speculates KIRO Radio’s Luke Burbank. “He could really use $3.3 million extra.”

That’s how much has currently been raised from school zone cameras. And backers on the council think it should all go to things like improving crosswalks and sidewalks in school zones, operating and maintaining cameras, and adding more lights and cameras.

The mayor’s spokesman Robert Cruickshank told the Times that McGinn remains committed to using all the money raised from the $189 tickets on school zone safety projects. But he said the mayor wants the money to stay in the general fund to be able to access it quickly when it’s needed and to have more flexibility on how it’s spent.

Luke says that raises red flags, even though he generally favors the cameras around school zones.

“I have no problem with cameras if they’re really used to keep kids safe” he says. “If you start putting it into the general fund and start paying for a whole variety of other things with it, you can’t help but think that this is really more about making money than anything else.”

Councilmembers say that’s why a separate fund is needed, to keep the program as transparent as possible – especially for critics of traffic cameras who argue they are really just sources of revenues rather than safety tools.

“Ninety-six percent of all violators who have paid their tickets, have not gotten another violation. This is proof that these speed cameras are working to change driver behavior,” said Councilman Nick Licata in a statement following the 9-0 vote Monday. “In dedicating the funding to make new traffic and pedestrian safety improvements we can also change the physical environment that drivers and walkers move through.”

But co-host Dave Ross wonders even with a separate fund, what’s to keep lawmakers from just broadening their definition of safety and using the money on other things.

“I bet it turns out the 520 bridge will keep kids safe,” Ross jokes.

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