ST. PETERSBURG — It seems red-light cameras are here to stay.
After a spirited debate Thursday, the City Council voted 5-3 to keep the 22 cameras hanging in St. Petersburg intersections to catch red-light runners.
Council members Wengay Newton, Leslie Curran and Steve Kornell voted to end the program with the Arizona-based camera vendor.
The debate came after Mayor Bill Foster explained the changes he made to the camera program last week in response to criticism about the state's red-light camera law.
Newton then made a motion to kill the city's contract with ATS, the council's only option. The group doesn't have the power to administer any part of the program.
"I think it's time for the council to invoke the only power we have," he said.
Curran supported his motion and lambasted the program as a money machine for the camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions.
If the program was about safety, the city should hire the firm for code enforcements and filming drivers near school buses, Curran said.
"This company is not in the business of promoting safety," she said. "They're concerned for the number of dollars they put in their wallets."
Other council members disagreed.
Jeff Danner offered a simple solution to critics: "Don't run red lights and you'll never have to deal with these problems."
Bill Dudley said he is tired of talking about the camera program. The retired teacher and former driving instructor said he thinks they make streets safer and many residents support the cameras.
"I'm tired of beating the same drum," he said.
Foster last week exempted drivers of rental and borrowed cars from the law because they don't have time to pay the $158 fine before it jumps to $264. Foster's action came after Pinellas Clerk of Circuit Court Ken Burke asked six Pinellas cities to stop issuing tickets until state legislators fix flaws in the camera program.
Council member Charlie Gerdes applauded Foster for issuing the moratorium but asked him to halt all tickets until state legislators can fix all flaws.
That idea died.
This was Newton's second attempt to kill the program. He made a similar motion late last year, but none of his colleagues supported him.
After the vote Thursday, Curran said the program keeps coming up for a reason: "If there wasn't a problem, it wouldn't be brought up to council."