Red-light camera

A red-light camera and a warning sign are seen near the intersection of Loop 288 and Interstate 35E.

Denton city leaders are prepping for the end of red-light cameras after House Bill 1631 was sent to the governor Tuesday.

Deputy City Manager Mario Canizares said Denton’s contract with Redflex Traffic Systems contains a provision that nullifies the agreement if state law changes. Political pundits expect Gov. Greg Abbott to sign the bill in front of news cameras.

Denton’s contract would end either with Abbott’s pen or on June 16, the last day the governor could opt to veto the bill instead.

The city staff has been preparing for a possible transition away from this type of enforcement for a while. City Manager Todd Hileman told City Council members a few months ago that he would give them options when Denton’s 15-year-old contract with Redflex expired in July, including the option not to renew.

Denton has used camera enforcement at several major traffic intersections since 2005. When the city signed its first contract with Redflex, the finance department set up the Traffic Safety Fund to track the income and expenses from the enforcement project.

While running a red light is considered a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, a camera-issued ticket is not. The ticket is considered a civil violation with a $75 penalty. Enough tickets have been issued and paid in Denton to generate about $2 million per year in annual revenue the past few years.

Most of that revenue gets plowed right back into the cost of the program, with more than half paid to Redflex and to Denton traffic officers who are paid overtime to review the tickets. The state gets another big chunk, which it allocates to trauma centers. On average, Denton has returned more than $600,000 per year to state coffers.

A fiscal note on HB 1631 shows that with the bill’s passage, the state expects to lose $28 million in funding for trauma centers over the next two years. That funding gap was addressed in the state budget, officials said.

In Denton, any money left over after all those expenses went into the Traffic Safety Fund. Over the years, the fund has been tapped to pay for new traffic lights and other safety improvements.

This year, for example, the city budgeted $760,000 from the fund to pay for two new traffic signals and another $80,000 for a citywide speed study.

The city’s finance staff budgeted about $1.3 million in the fund at the end of this fiscal year.

Canizares said the city staff expects to discuss the impacts of HB 1631 and the city’s contract with the City Council on June 3.

The discussion will likely include information from the police department about enforcing camera tickets during the transition, Canizares said.

“That’s one of the things the police department is discussing — what’s the right timing on that,” Canizares said.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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