Proceed with caution: Destin to weigh costs, benefits of traffic light cameras

DESTIN — After pushing hard a month ago for the city to consider installing cameras at traffic signals, Councilman Larry Hines may be rethinking his request after last week’s City Council meeting.

“In my heart I think that I favor this, but I think we need more information,” Hines said.

The council voted 6-1 to collect data from the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office on the number of accidents and traffic violations in Destin before deciding on the cameras.

The city’s staff recently met with representatives from American Traffic Solutions and B&W Sensors, both vendors of traffic infraction detection systems, to gather information and present the council with the pros and cons of the systems.

Public Services Director Steven Schmidt told council members that installation costs for a system that would comply with Florida Department of Transportation requirements would range from $75,000 to $110,000 per directional installation. The city also would have to enter into a five-year lease agreement with the vendor at a cost of $4,500 to $4,700 a month.

So, for every east-west traffic signal the city wanted to place a camera, the minimum cost would be $9,000 a month, in addition to the installation costs for each direction.

Councilman Larry Williges said it would take quite a few infractions to break even.

“The city would have to have 60-plus violators just to make back the $4,500 … for the $4,700 you need 62-plus violators to break even,” he said. “This could cost us quite a bit of money for the five-year period, close to $281,000 for the lease agreement.”

Of the $158 fine collected, the city would receive $75, with the remaining funds sent to the state Department of Revenue. The city also would be responsible for hiring or training someone to administer the program, verify the infractions and issue notices of violation to motorists.

“You don’t have to do it with the sheriff’s department or the county,” Schmidt said.

City Manager Greg Kisela said there are two main issues: red light detection and speed detection provisions in state law.

“The courts are continuing to refine these enforcement issues,” he said of the legal battle over the validity and enforcement of traffic cameras. “The courts have just not supported a haphazard application of the law.”

Councilman Jim Bagby, who cast the lone “no” vote, said the cameras could cause more problems than they solve.

“I wouldn’t say that we are ready for this,” he said. “The cost is prohibitive and I don’t think we need them.”

Pete Blome, chairman of the Libertarian Party of Okaloosa County, said his branch of nearly 290 members is aligned with the Libertarian Party of Florida in its opposition to traffic signal cameras.

He said later that the Libertarians would protest their installation. “Absolutely. As best we can.”

“The whole purpose of a red light camera system is not safety,” Blome said. “That could be just as well served by making yellow lights longer. The purpose of a red light system is to make money for the people who have those systems and to try and get fines into a county or a town that is trying to increase its revenue because they are too unwilling to make the hard decisions about cutting their budgets. They want to squeeze the little guy to get the funds.”Kisela said that generating revenue is not necessarily the plan.

“The providers of this equipment predicted it would generate revenue, but we are a little reluctant to commit to that,” he said.

City officials will wait for the traffic data from the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’d rather see the results from the statistics,” Councilman Tom Weidenhamer said. “I want to see whether or not we have a problem.”

 

A note from Lee Jackson…8 Aug 10

I am writing to Independent and Tea Party voters! In July, a letter writer told us to “choose very carefully” between two Senate candidates this November.

Choosing carefully is good, but the writer was misleading. He listed just the two candidates in his sights. But that is a great deception! There are actually 22 candidates! [source: election.myflorida.com/candidate/canlist.asp]

Three professional politicians have been “approved” by all the pundits and polling firms, plus one democrat who has bought his way into the contest. You wonder why money is a major factor in elections? The press covers only those who can carpet bomb the electorate with advertising. This year, if you believe the coverage, we are faced with voting for the “evil of three lessers” and one billionaire.

The three politicians want the greater job security of Senator. However, they will bring nothing new to the Senate. Their policy solutions will be unchanged and properly vetted by their party conference, influenced by vested interests, and will not rock the status quo.

Independents, voting for “winning” candidates in the past, have been disappointed because our Republic continued its slide to larger, more intrusive, less responsive Government.

On August 21st, take the opportunity to meet and hear the Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate, Alex Snitker, at the “U.S. Constitution Freedom Rally” organized by the Emerald Coast Tea Party. Check out this citizen candidate for liberty. Do your research, talk with him, become part of the solution and stop voting for “evil”.

Lee Jackson

A Loaded Hummer Stretch Limo

On the surface, the Mid Bay Bridge Authority bypass looks like a good idea.

In place of a two lane residential road first laid down in the 1950’s, the bypass user will have a modern highway complete with automated toll booths promising a speedy ride from highway 85 all the way to the Mid Bay Bridge. If you use the Sunpass system, you will never have to take your wallet out to pay a toll. It will look and feel like progress.

Of course, it isn’t.

Throughout its entire life the Mid Bay Bridge Authority has been increasing tolls while increasing its debt, even as vehicle traffic was going down. They average $10 million in new debt every year since they were created. For the last four years vehicle traffic on the bridge has been declining, and I think this trend will continue. Meanwhile, the Board of County Commissioners have been rubberstamping the budgets of the MBBA with not even a minute’s worth of debate, even though the law (Laws of Florida, Ch 2000-411, Section 6, part (c)) says they have the ultimate power of budget review, change and approval.

To my mind, this is all wrong, and not what government is supposed to be about. Government, when it is necessary, should strive to provide the most public service at the least public cost.

The best thing government planners could have done for Okaloosa was to plan to pay off debts and pass on the savings to the citizens. The bridge toll could cost as little as $1 per day (operations, maintenance and a rainy day fund) if there were no debt service to pay. That would really help the people who need the bridge in good economic times or bad. Instead, this bridge and bypass system is going to require high tolls forever.

When I say high, I mean eye popping high. When all is said and done with the bypass, a bridge that cost $67 million dollars to build in 1994 will have more than $350 million in debt laid on it, and that doesn’t even include future costs for ideas like a second span. It will cost you $5.50 to travel the bypass and bridge roundtrip. That’s $1430 per year for a regular commuter, which is higher than a lot of folks property taxes. There is no plan to ever pay off this project, or even to reduce the tolls.

In April of 2010, MBBA Executive Director Jim Vest told me at least $42 million in contracts were already awarded for road construction. Robert Kellner, Project Principal Engineer, told the Okaloosa Citizens Alliance that the process of awarding contracts to finish future portions of the project have been speeded up to take advantage of decreased construction costs during this recession. It was recently announced an additional $48.7 million dollars in contracts have been awarded. Terminating all contracts already awarded would probably add millions in penalty costs that bridge users would ultimately have to pay in extra tolls, but finishing the project will cost even more millions that bridge users will still also have to pay.

In other words, stopping the project will cost everyone more, and completing the project will cost everyone more. There is no happy ending to this tale.

It seems nobody thought “What if bridge traffic goes down? Can we still afford this?”

It seems nobody asked “Why don’t we just pay down bridge debt and make it cheap for people to use?”

It seems no County Commissioner or the MBBA had a clear vision of what government is supposed to be about. They were sent out to buy a Ford Fiesta and came home with a loaded Hummer stretch limo, payments courtesy of John Q. Public.

Exactly how is the MBBA going to pay the debt service on $350 million in construction debt with fewer cars using the bridge? How can they make this work without increasing tolls again in the future?

They can’t. Another magnificent folly brought to you by unlimited government.

Address to the Okaloosa County Commission 7 Dec 2010

My name is Pete Blome and I live in Niceville.

I am here to ask this Board to resist the security policies of the Transportation Security Administration at Okaloosa County Airports.

Recently, intrusive procedures by the TSA have come to the attention of the people of the United States.

New security procedures have now reached the logical extreme that had to come to pass once government was allowed to inspect American citizens without the protections of the fourth amendment. It is ironic, but we are losing our liberties in the pursuit of keeping our liberties.

Some of you on this board are thinking right now that this is none of Okaloosa’s business. Security is a Federal responsibility. Any decisions by this board will have no weight, and are therefore meaningless.

Respectfully, that is wrong. The purpose of government is to protect individual rights, and that includes County Government. This board has an important role in this matter. Okaloosa County is where we live. It is where we have our families. It is where we raise our children.

The actions of the Transportation Security Administration are not innocuous. They affect the fundamental quality of our lives, and our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the responsibility of all government to resist unconstitutional acts, even if those acts originate in another branch of government.

However, I’ve read in various polls that most Americans think it wonderful that their government is doing something to keep them safe, and have no problems with naked x-ray images or being intimately touched by government bureaucrats. They say the TSA is only trying to keep us safe.

This is an especially short sighted opinion and begs the question if security could be bought at the cost of our liberty would it be worth it? As President Eisenhower once said, the safest place on earth is a prison.

What I am about to say is not hyperbole, but rather government policy. In order to travel in the United States today, every person must receive permission from our government. John Pistole himself, the head of the TSA, has referred to current procedures that require FBI clearance before any passenger may board an aircraft. This permission does not involve any public presentation of evidence nor the discussion of probable cause in front of a judge. If you do not get permission, you are denied the ability to travel. In 2007 the inspector general of the FBI said at least 700,000 people were on FBI airline watch lists. A fact of life in our modern America is that our government has become the licensor of the right to movement by its citizens.

(“secure flight”, APIS – Advance Passenger Information System)

The new TSA procedures add to this problem. In order to travel by aircraft, something that many people consider a personal necessity, a person is forced by government to submit to either an x-ray scan, or to an invasive touching of their body by a TSA agent. You have no choice. You may not decide once entering the inspection zone that this is too much for your sensibilities and refuse or the TSA will fine you up to $11,000. Your only choice is to not travel, which is an option many cannot afford. This policy applies to your grandmother, to small children, to the handicapped, to the prudish and extroverted with equal affrontery. Government officials, of course, are exempt from this treatment.

These policies are an invitation to corruption. Innocents will be prevented travel by bureaucratic decree. Government graft will take root as inspectors sell the ability to decide who travels and who doesn’t. Exposure to x-rays will harm you. The depraved pat downs of genital regions will lead to the spread of communicable diseases, and appeal to the depraved. And with time, people will forget that the ability to freely travel is as much a right as associating with whom you wish, doing what you want, or saying what you think.

TSA agents in the course of their “duties” have performed physical acts that violate Florida law, including child pornography, lewd and lascivious molestation and battery laws.

Already, 35,000 nude photographs of airline passengers have been saved by the TSA despite assurances that this would never happen. An unknown number have been distributed. There is a moral imperative that government live by the same rules as everyone else. A crime committed by a government agent is still a crime.

Okaloosa County must make a statement. The County Commissioners should instruct Mr. Greg Donovan, Airport Director for the County, to resist by whatever means possible the installation of full body scanners and prohibit the implementation of full body pat downs.

Furthermore, this board should ask Sheriff Ashley to enforce existing Florida law as it applies to TSA policy.

(827.071, Child pornography, 800.04 lewd and lascivious molestation, 784.03 Battery)

I find myself in the unenviable position of arguing for things that should be self evident, such as the fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, the concept of innocent until proven guilty, and the rule of law for everyone including government officials. To me, it is as if some leaders in government have lost their senses.

Scottish historian Charles MacKay said “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, [and then only] one by one.”

I am asking you to help us recover our senses.

In June of 2009 the United States Supreme Court struck down an Arizona court ruling that allowed the strip search of a 13 year old middle school student for hiding ibuprofen tablets. Yet now the government virtually strip searches everyone. People who would not contemplate a teacher or policeman touching them without invitation are allowing TSA agents to touch the private parts of their 7 year old children.

(Stafford Unified School district #1 versus Redding)

Jon Lovett, a speechwriter for President Obama joked about this situation that “Virgin Airlines had to change their name to ‘Technically Still a Virgin’ Airlines.”

(politico.com Jon Lovett, speechwriter for Obama)

He, like the rest of us, jokes about our rights. Maybe it’s because we do not know what else to do.

Our rights are not the province of only the Federal government. We make it happen every day. We are the guarantors of our own liberty. And this board is a part of that.

Thank you.