Local News

Wake Schools Claim More Money From Red Light Cameras

Posted July 18, 2007 9:01 p.m. EDT
Updated July 18, 2007 10:07 p.m. EDT

— In tight budget times, Wake County schools may be missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. The source: money generated from red light cameras in Wake County towns.

In 2005, Wake schools got $16,322 from Cary and $33,253 from Knightdale. Last year, they got $114,533 from Cary and $3,087 from Knightdale.

Raleigh hasn't paid anything to date, but does expect to make a payment of $80,000 in the next few weeks. Right now, 90 percent of profits after operating costs go back to schools. That’s the way the law is written specifically for Wake County.

The costs are significant. In Raleigh last year, the red light camera program brought in $872,000. The contract with camera operator ACS was $748,000. The city's costs were $40,000.

Wake School Board attorney Michael Crowell’s legal opinion is that the school system is owed more, a lot more. That’s because the State Supreme Court recently denied review of a High Point lawsuit over the lights.

In that case, the State Court of Appeals had said High Point couldn’t use the fines to pay for operating costs,  meaning 90 percent of most of the proceeds would go to schools.

Crowell said he believes the ruling applies here because the courts relied on the definition of “clear proceeds” under the state constitution. Crowell says the cost to collect fees can be deducted under the ruling, but, not routine operating costs.

Wake towns that have the red light cameras believe the specific nature of the County’s law means the court rulings do not apply to them.

Cary Town Spokesperson Susan Moran said the lights there weren’t designed to make money in the first place.

“You see, in Cary, we started the program for safety, not money,” she said.

Moran said the intent is to make intersections safer. And if there’s money left over, it’s a bonus for the school system.

School board member Ron Margiotta said that’s not the point and he’d like for the school system to go after the funds.

“Here we are searching for money to buy crayons for kids and we’re letting this money go by the wayside,” he said, referring to a recent $5 million shortfall.

The school board hasn’t been aggressive, because members have been watching the courts.

The State Supreme Court ruling just came down in June. Former board chair Patti Head said members still have to consider how profitable it would be to get caught up in a legal battle.