Local cities concerned after Gov. Abbott signs bill outlawing red-light cameras

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter, Jennifer Galvan - Photojournalist

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas - Two local cities are concerned about future traffic accidents after Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday signed into law a bill banning the use of red-light cameras.

Those cities, which currently have these cameras in place, are Balcones Heights and Leon Valley.

The bill ends the use of red-light cameras immediately for cities with a contract that contains a clause that "authorizes termination of the contract on the basis of adverse state legislation." Cities without that clause and that had contracts in existence prior to May 7, such as Leon Valley, will be allowed to use the cameras throughout the duration of the contract.

“We are one year into our contract,” said Joseph Salvaggio, police chief of the Leon Valley Police Department. “We still have 19 more years to go. We are just asking people to stop running red lights. We have seen a 43% reduction in accidents, so we know they are working, and we want residents to know they are still there.”

Salvaggio said in their first month, they caught 8,900 people running red lights. In the first year, they issued 72,000 citations totaling around $490,000 in fines. Half of that was able to go to their department, where they hired new officers and added to their traffic safety budget, and the other half went to the statewide trauma fund for hospitals.

“With this bill in place, there is over $20 million that are no longer going to be going to those hospitals to deal with people who don’t have insurance, and so the citizens are going to take a hit in one way or the other on this stuff,” Salvaggio said.

Lorenzo Nastasi, director of public information for Balcones Heights, agrees, adding that departments will suffer, as well.

“The other side of that coin is that the money that the cities receive from the traffic safety cameras, contrary to what a lot of people think, is not a cash cow,” said Nastasi. “The funds are restricted and can only be used for traffic safety issues. These small towns and small departments will have a tremendous burden, especially here, because with a small department and major daytime traffic and two highways, officers are going to be stuck manning intersections that the cameras took care of. In places where there are no cameras at all, I see it every day, several people running red lights. It’s a hazard.”

Both cities said as long as people follow the basic law of stopping at red lights, they won’t have to worry about red-light cameras.

“We definitely hope that this doesn’t cause an increase in traffic deaths at intersections that used to have these cameras, but we have seen the studies, and it says that it probably will, so we just say, 'Everybody be careful,'” said Salvaggio. “That is all we are asking. This is about safety. It is not about money, and regardless if it is going to be for one more day or 19 more years, we care about the safety of those citizens.”

Nastasi said the Balcones Heights City Council is still reviewing its contracts, but if they do not have the clause the bill lists, then they will have their cameras for 15 more years. The cameras have been in place since 2007.

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