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Lynnwood to review profitable red light cameras

Whether you like red light cameras or hate them, the argument always boils down to this: Is it really about making the streets safer or filling the bank account?

Lynnwood was one of the first cities in the state to use them, but leaders aren’t sure if they should keep them, especially since they are considering whether to enter into a new long-term deal with the camera company.

Lynnwood’s eight red light cameras and two school zone speed cameras bring in a bunch of money, more than $500,000 alone in the first three months of this year. It’s been a great cash-creator for the city, but despite that result, city council president Loren Simmonds said that wasn’t the intention.

He said Lynnwood wasn’t hurting for money when it started the program in 2007. It was simply trying to get a handle on red-light running.

“It wasn’t born out of the fact that somebody got this sinister idea behind closed doors and said, man we can make a bundle here. Because I want to tell you we had no idea what the financial implications of this would be.”

Simmonds is still shocked at the number of people willing to blow through red lights or not even make an attempt to stop before making a right turn.

“I cannot believe the number of people that don’t come to complete stops at intersections, trying to beat it through on the yellow light,” he said. “It’s an obscene number of violations that have resulted in an obscene amount of dollars that have been raised for the city.”

But the thing about those obscene dollars that the city wasn’t expecting in the beginning is that now the city relies on those dollars because their sales tax revenue has plummeted in the recession.

At least 5 percent of Lynnwood’s general fund comes from photo tickets. If the city were to get rid of the cameras now, it would have to find another source of revenue, possibly a sales tax increase, maybe creating a parks taxing district or allowing casinos in the city.

The council that approved the cameras is now all but gone. The newly elected council members want a chance to review the camera program and see if it should be continued. Simmonds said that’s why they’re holding a public meeting Wednesday night. So the public can weigh in and the council can chew on the facts.

“Where do we go from here,” he said. “Do we want to change anything? If we do want to change it, what would that look like? It’s sort of a first step.”

The council is expecting such a big crowd Wednesday that the meeting is being held at the Lynnwood Convention Center at 3711 196th Street SW.

Simmonds still believes in the cameras. He said the volume of tickets is going down, despite increased traffic at the camera intersections. So he believes drivers are changing their behavior.

And he says there’s a sure fire way to avoid getting a ticket, don’t run a red light.

By the way, 80 percent of the tickets go to people living outside of Lynnwood.

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