HPD may cut budget after camera revenue loss

HOUSTON That information comes as Houston Mayor Annise Parker is expected to address allegations that the city is throwing a legal fight that could result in the cameras being turned back on.

The chief of police says HPD is taking a major hit because of the loss of red light cameras. Chief Charles McClelland told city council he has been trying to find ways to make cuts to deal with the multi-million dollar deficit due to the lack of revenue from the red light cameras.

Chief McClelland said this fiscal year alone, the department will lose nearly $4.3 million. Next fiscal year, that number will grow to more than $6.2 million.

One of his plans to offset this year's cost is to put a freeze on civilian hiring. That move would save a little over $1 million.

"Even with the freeze in hiring of our civilian staff and a reduction in those, police officers will have to multi-task. Those functions that civilians were doing are very important functions and they can't go undone," said Chief McClelland.

"Clearly, you had to go back in quickly after the red light camera vote and I appreciate the hard work and the willingness to look at innovative changes," said Mayor Parker.

HPD said it will delay some cadet classes. That presents a problem because the department has 1,800 officers eligible for retirement.

"They're not planning on leaving but we're gonna work hard to keep them because if we were to lose all of those officers to retirement, that would be a significant impact on public safety," the chief said.

The chief also has plans to make several other cuts including cutting back overtime.

Chief McClelland also said HPD emergency response time remains at five minutes and he does not anticipate that changing with the budget cuts.

The mayor's office told us she will not discuss the red light issue today.

No tickets being issued for now

Viewers voted to turn the cameras off and take them down more than a month ago, but they're still up and they're still on.

A judge Friday ordered the cameras to remain rolling, while a series of lawsuits play out in court.

There are now dueling lawsuits in the court one from the city filed on November 15 to find out how it should handle the termination of the camera contract. On November 24, the camera vendor - American Traffic Solutions - countersued, saying the city put the matter on the ballot improperly.

Currently, the battle is being fought in federal court between the city of Houston and ATS, the camera vendor. The city is hoping to avoid paying damages to the company for dropping the contract.

A spokesperson for ATS said, "Ultimately, this isn't about whether or not the cameras are turned back on. It's about whether a contract with the city of Houston is worth the paper that it's written on."

However, the Kubosh brothers, traffic attorneys and bail bondsmen who have fought the cameras for years, believe the city wants to keep the cameras to help offset a budget shortfall.

"The city's motive is money in this. I think that they are on the phone trying to find the best way to keep the cameras where they can hide behind a federal judge," said Paul Kubosh, a red light camera critic.

As for council members, they tell us the cameras are done in their opinion.

"In the city of Houston, I cannot envision any scenario where there would be tickets issued for running a red light as caught by a red light camera," said Houston City Council Member Anne Clutterbuck.

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