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Rio Rancho’s red light cameras up for debate

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Two Rio Rancho city councilors with opposing views on the controversial topic of red light cameras will make their case at a debate hosted by the local tea party.

The debate, which is open to the public, will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 5, at the Church of Christ, 1006 22nd Street SE in Rio Rancho, near the Dairy Queen on Southern Boulevard.

Councilor Chuck Wilkins will be speaking for the cameras; Councilor Shelby Smith in opposition.

The Safe Traffic Operation Program, or STOP, went live a little more than three years ago with cameras and fixed-speed monitoring equipment on Unser at the intersections with Southern and Northern, and speed vans that can be moved around the city.

Wilkins, a Farmers Insurance agent, has said the program has helped reduce crashes and brought the city revenue.

“Overall, I would like to see more of them (cameras) at major intersections,” Wilkins said in a recent interview.

Smith, a former Rio Rancho police officer, believes the primary motive to institute the program was to fill city coffers not boost road safety.

“Since I’ve taken office, I haven’t been shy about saying that the cameras are not necessary,” Smith said in a recent interview. “They were brought here for revenue, not safety.”

The fine for speeding 11 mph or more above the speed limit or red light violations are $100. The city keeps a portion after program operator Redflex and the state receive a share and program expenses are covered.

Rio Rancho Tea Party President Renee Wilkins, the councilor’s wife, said the purpose of the debate is to get more information out to the public.

“There are many residents on either side of this (the STOP program issue),” she said. “It’s really important to get information out to people to have an educated decision about whether it’s a good or bad thing.”

The city contracted with Phoenix-based Redflex in 2010 to operate the program. The contract ensured that all costs would be covered by violator fines, Redflex would install the equipment, collect the information and provide it to the city’s police department.

The contract is up for renewal in December.

A study of STOP data released this spring by Rio Rancho Police showed a minimal decline in the number of crashes at the two red light camera intersections since they went live in March 2011. At the Unser/Northern location, there were 51 crashes from 2011 through 2013, compared with 58 from 2008 through 2010, a 12 percent drop. At Unser/Southern, there were 107 crashes from 2011 to 2013 compared with 111 from 2008 to 2010, a 3.6 percent decrease.

Net revenue to the city from STOP-related fines was $338,859 in fiscal year 2013, that ended June 30. Redflex’s portion of the revenue was $406,536.