Red light cameras out in Dunnellon

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 6:51 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 at 6:51 p.m.

DUNNELLON — On the same night that the Dunnellon City Council learned its finances are in disastrous shape, the council resolved a long-simmering controversy in a way that should make residents and visitors in this scenic little town smile.

Council members voted Monday evening to do away with the controversial red-light cameras that have generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the city but have also angered townspeople and tourists alike.

“That was a monster (achievement), as far as I’m concerned,” Mayor Nathan Whitt said Tuesday, less than 24 hours after his fellow council members surprised him by joining his opposition to the cameras.

The three cameras — at the intersections of U.S. 41 and Powell Road, Brooks Street and the north entrance of Walmart — were installed in late October 2011. And while they started paying immediate dividends, generating more than $500,000 in fines in their first six months alone, they sparked a major outcry from residents and tourists who claimed they were little more than a ploy by City Hall to pad the city’s treasury.

Whitt made killing the red-light cameras a major plank in his platform while running for mayor last year because he believed they were more trouble than they were worth.

“It’s just not a very tourist-friendly thing to do,” he said.

As the complaints mounted, some from out-of-town visitors who vowed not to return after getting tickets in the mail, he decided to press his case to abandon the system.

But until last night, Whitt sensed that he was alone in his desire to do away with it.

“I genuinely didn’t think I had the votes,” Whitt said. “I thought, well, it’s a lost cause and I’ll take another run at it later.”

But the council did vote with Whitt, 4-1, despite the knowledge that the decision would erase a lucrative revenue stream at a time that the city’s finances are especially fragile because of its struggling telecommunications system, dubbed Greenlight.

“It’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t thing,” interim City Manager Eddie Esch said. “Red-light cameras are a legitimate revenue source, but they are disheartening to people.”

Whitt said the cameras have been dark since July 1 as the City Council mulled whether to renew its contract with the vendor that operates the system and collects the fines.

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