BLUFF CITY, Tenn. (AP) — Bluff City officials are enjoying the extra revenue from speed cameras that have generated more than a million dollars in a little over a year, but the windfall could be short-lived.
Between Jan. 1, 2010, and May 31, 2011, the cameras on U.S. Highway 11E in Piney Flats issued 39,923 citations to drivers, including now Gov. Bill Haslam, who was ticketed last year when he was caught speeding during his campaign.
The tickets netted the city nearly $1.6 million — an amount equal to eight times Bluff City's total property tax collections from the last fiscal year — during that period, according to the Bristol Herald Courier.
Purchases with the money include a new support truck for the city's rescue squad and putting a shelter over a caboose in the city park.
But Interim City Manager Judy Dulaney said the two biggest accomplishments are funneling about a fourth of the money directly into the city's existing operations budget and putting some away for a rainy day.
"These things wouldn't normally be in a budget," Dulaney said. "But because of these extra funds, we were able to buy them."
While the extra money has been beneficial, the cameras have their critics, particularly those who consider the Piney Flats corridor a speed trap.
A law recently passed that aims to eliminate their use as speed traps and reduce private vendors' influence over where they are located.
The measure decrees that speed cameras can't be located within a mile of a 10 mph drop in the speed limit, and that tickets can only be issued for vehicles entering an intersection after the light has already turned red.
It also requires local governments to conduct independent traffic engineering studies — without the influence or money of private vendors — to determine the location of future cameras.
By barring the use of speed cameras within a mile of a 10 mph drop in the speed limit, the new law could force Bluff City to either expand the length of its 1.3-mile-long 45 mph zone in Piney Flats or shut down its speed camera program when the current contract expires in January 2015.
"I don't know what will happen," Dulaney said when asked how the board would respond to the law and the possible demise of the camera program.
An ordinance that would expand the 45 mph zone showed up on an agenda for a called meeting in June, but has not been considered because that meeting was cancelled.
Despite the criticism, Police Chief David Nelson said the cameras are effective.
"It's a proven fact these cameras work," said Nelson, adding that his department has seen a significant decrease in the number of wrecks on U.S. 11E since the speed cameras went up.
"When you go down there, you can tell that people are paying more attention to that area. You can see them putting on the brakes and slowing down."
In his previous job as Knoxville mayor, Haslam oversaw the installation of red light cameras at city intersections. He told reporters in May that he understood "people didn't like them, but they worked.
"They made intersections a safer place," he said.