EAST ST. LOUIS — City Council members are calling for a certified audit of the city's red-light camera program, saying it has yet to collect a dime in fines from the private company that runs the program.
Some want to end the city's contract with Florida-based Innovative Traffic Solutions, saying the company has not held up its end of the agreement.
"We've received payments from citizens, but we haven't seen any payments from the red light camera company," City Treasurer Joe Lewis said.
Under an agreement approved by the city, Innovative Traffic Solutions put red-light cameras at the intersection of 25th and State streets in December. Nearly a year later, it has yet to collect the $60 from every $100 ticket the company has issued that is supposed to go to the city.
Councilman Emeka Jackson-Hicks said she has heard numerous complaints about the program from residents that warrant a thorough investigation into the city's contract with the company.
"They are incorrectly processing license plates, putting the wrong state off of license plates onto tickets, putting the wrong license numbers on violations, and the wrong citizens are receiving violations," she said.
When drivers or vehicle owners receive a ticket for traffic violations caught on camera, such as running a red light, they are instructed to pay the fines to Sensys America, another Florida-based company. However, many send their money to City Hall instead.
Lewis said his office has sent Sensys America a little more than $14,000 since the program began a year ago.
Asked why he didn't keep the city's portion of the money, Lewis said, "That's been my position all along, but I was directed to send the money to the company in Florida.
"Based on the city manager's directions and the council's, with the money collected in the treasurer's office, we had to forward to the Florida company with the understanding that we were supposed to receive 60 percent of that back," Lewis said.
Several councilmen raised questions about the connection between Innovative Traffic and Sensys America.
City Attorney Mike Wagner said he wasn't sure whether Sensys America was a partner or just the collection agency for Innovative Traffic Solutions. He said that in his opinion, the city's contract with the company is legal and binding.
Wagner said under a renegotiated agreement he is preparing, the city will get all the money it is owed, which he estimated at about $42,000 to date.
When drivers have questions regarding the violations or want to appeal, they are instructed not to call the police department or City Hall but rather an 800 number that was provided by the company. But, it seems no one is answering the phones at that number, Jackson-Hicks said.
Numerous calls to Innovative Traffic Solutions by the News-Democrat for comment were not returned.
"Frankly speaking, the program is so outrageous that police and other emergency vehicles who are responding to emergencies are receiving tickets," Jackson-Hicks said.
Innovative Traffic Solutions also is not processing tickets in the 10-day turn-around time stipulated in the contract, Jackson-Hicks said. Some citizens have called her complaining about receiving tickets for alleged violations five to six months after the incident occurred.
"There is no good recordkeeping in the city. We don't know how many tickets have been processed or how much money has been collected," she said. She said an additional $100 late fee that the company is charging citizens who do not have the money to pay the ticket on time is placing an undue hardship on people who are already under a tremendous financial strain.
"I need some answers. I have some issues with Innovative Traffic Solutions," Jackson-Hicks said at a recent city council meeting, calling the situation "ridiculous."
At the meeting, Councilman Roy Mosley asked Wagner whether the city could void its contract and put it out for bid again. He also questioned the connection with Innovative Traffic and Sensys America.
Councilman Delbert Marion said a certified audit will show how much money is actually owed to the city.
"We want the money that is owed to the city and we need to know exactly how many tickets have been processed since the cameras were put up," he said.
Marion said the city was careless in its dealings with the company.
"We got into this mess for not dotting all the i's and crossing all of the t's," he said.
But Marion said he is not ready to call it quits with Innovative Traffic.
"More than a money-making initiative, the red light cameras were put up at 25th and State streets as a safety initiative," he said.
"The contract needs to be gone over with attorneys from both parties, and the wrinkles ironed out so we can move forward. Right now, there are a lot of flaws in the contract. It should have been ironed out in the beginning. But, nobody knew what photo enforcement was all about," Marion said.
Wagner, who was directed to address the city's concerns with the company, said he plans to present a renegotiated agreement to City Council members soon that he believes "addresses all of their concerns."
The renegotiated agreement will include adjustments in the late fees charged; how fines are distributed; financial accountability, and modifications in local control and how tickets are issued. Presently the city has no local control over tickets, he said.