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Originally published July 21, 2013 at 8:33 PM | Page modified July 21, 2013 at 9:36 PM

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Cash from traffic-camera tickets might go into special fund

The Seattle City Council may vote Monday to create a separate fund for school-zone camera ticket revenue, and use the money only for road- and pedestrian-safety projects near schools. Mayor Mike McGinn prefers that the money stay in the general fund for more flexibility in how it is spent.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has said he plans to use all money raised from $189 school-zone traffic-camera tickets for road- and pedestrian-safety projects near schools.

Still, he isn’t a fan of a City Council proposal that would create a special fund for the money — $3.3 million as of last month — and require that every penny be spent that way. McGinn’s spokesman, Robert Cruickshank, said the mayor prefers that the money remain in the city’s general fund so there’s more flexibility in how it can be used and better access to the money when needed.

On Monday afternoon, the council will consider whether to establish the separate fund. If passed, ticket revenue could be spent only on operating and maintaining the cameras; safety education; and capital-improvement projects in school zones, such as repainted crosswalks, new sidewalks, lights and more camera installations.

Councilmember Nick Licata said he understands the temptation to keep the revenue in the general fund, given the variety of needs facing the city.

“You want to have flexibility so you can pay for what is most needed — there’s an attraction to that,” Licata said. “But we are so far behind on our pedestrian and bicycle master plans that it’d be difficult to say we couldn’t contribute a lot more to that.”

Licata said that for years he’s wanted that type of fund established for the millions in revenue raised from red-light camera tickets, too. He thinks it’s the best way to prove to citizens that the cameras are meant to protect, not gouge them.

“There’s no paper trail that we’ve seen that shows the funds for red-light or speed cameras are being earmarked for road-safety improvement,” Licata said. “This is the only way to follow through and verify where the money is going.”

At a recent meeting of the council’s Government Performance and Finance Committee, Sally Clark, Tim Burgess and Mike O’Brien came out in favor of what would be called the School Zone Fixed Automated Cameras Fund. They said it would make the program more transparent for those skeptical of the traffic-camera programs.

The mayor’s office begs to differ. Next year’s budget could just note the source for an increase in spending on public-safety projects, Cruickshank said.

Licata and the mayor’s office say that flexibility in using red-light ticket revenue came in handy after the recession, when capital projects were kept to a minimum to help balance the budget.

“We would prefer that money be immediately accessible,” Cruickshank said. “When you take money out of a dedicated fund, you have to jump through a lot more hoops.”

But the city might be better off with those hoops, Licata said. The Seattle Police Department, for example, came to a recent Transportation Committee meeting asking that the funds be available should traffic officers be assigned to school zones without speed cameras.

It’s better to spend that money on more speed cameras, Licata said, than officers because the devices are a more cost-efficient way of catching speeders.

Licata said he might try to set up a designated fund for red-light-camera revenue as well later this year but hasn’t discussed it extensively with other council members. Since 2009, $124 red-light camera citations have been mailed out more than 184,400 times.

“I would like to go into that direction, but I have to check the temperature of other council members to see whether they’re willing to go there,” Licata said.

Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or avaughn@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.

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