Drivers can expect to see speed-monitoring cameras operating soon in about a dozen school zones in Baltimore County, and those caught exceeding the posted speed limit by 12 mph will face a $40 fine.
The County Council authorized the speed cameras in a 6-1 vote Tuesday. The council added amendments limiting the number of cameras to 15 and requiring an annual report. Councilman T. Bryan McIntire dissented, saying, "I think it's more effective to have police on duty."
Administrators will have to negotiate a contract for leasing the equipment and bring that back to the council, before the cameras are installed.
Steve Bailey, the co-chairman of the Baltimore County chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a group that opposes the cameras as a money grab and an intrusion on residents' rights, has filed an ethics complaint against County Executive James T. Smith Jr., contending that he acted improperly by attempting to negotiate a contract before the council had voted on a bill.
Initially, the county had expected to add a lease for the equipment onto an existing contract with a Texas company that supplies the county with red-light cameras. But that plan was scrapped, when officials determined that they would have to purchase the new equipment. Officials intend to lease the cameras.
"It is clearly laughable to file a complaint about a contract the county never pursued," said Don Mohler, county spokesman. "This is the kind of rhetoric we are seeing from the fringe."
Opponents, who have spoken at two public hearings on the issue, held a rally outside the council meeting. They continued to ask for more police officers and speed bumps as deterrents. They insist the county is looking at the cameras as revenue generators - each would bring in about $138,000 annually, officials said. Many parents have argued for the cameras, saying the equipment will protect their children and crossing guards, particularly those on roads too narrow for speed bumps.
Police Chief Jim Johnson has provided statistics to show that the technology works and decreases speed-related accidents. He calls the cameras "just common police sense."
The cameras, which would operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, would cover about a half-mile radius around schools that have generated the most complaints about speeding. Once the cameras are installed, signs will be posted alerting drivers to the equipment's presence.
Motorists driving 12 mph above the posted speed limit would be fined $40 but would receive no points on their licenses. In the first month of the program, speeders would receive warnings rather than fines.
About 15 cameras will be leased initially, at a monthly cost of $6,411 each. A yet-to-be-determined percentage of the revenues would be returned to the leasing company.