Kaufman’s Costly and Illegal Scandal – Part 2
For Part 1, click HERE.
County Judge Bruce Wood led Kaufman County into a costly contract with American Traffic Solutions (ATS) for traffic cameras. The contract resulted in illegal overreaches of authority in addition to costs over $180,000.
Traffic Cameras Were Unnecessary
Kaufman, like most other rural counties, has five law enforcement agencies to patrol its roads and enforce traffic laws. Each school zone is protected by local school police, city police, constables, deputy sheriffs, and the highway patrol. Not only was the ticketing contract with ATS unlawful, it would have added a redundant sixth layer of law enforcement.
If a school district had a problem with drivers speeding in school zones or illegally passing school buses, one of those five agencies could increase patrols and ticket unsafe drivers. While this may raise costs, so would the ATS contract. The camera program required an officer to review all the footage and sign off on each citation. That officer could have been out in the community pursuing criminals, rather than sitting behind a desk issuing civil violations.
The ATS scheme was simply an attempt at revenue generation, disguised as a safety measure.
The Contract Burdened Local Taxpayers
Despite ATS’s claim that their camera program would generate only net revenues for the county, there were numerous fixed costs outlined in the contract. Kaufman taxpayers were on the hook for personnel training hours, moving the mobile cameras from school zone to school zone, reviewing the footage of each camera, and inspecting and maintaining the equipment. The county was also required to add the mobile units to their fleet, making it responsible for fuel as well as maintenance and adding the vehicles to their insurance and general liability policies.
For the mobile camera systems (mounted inside a vehicle or trailer and parked in a school zone), ATS received $50 per citation or 40% of the citation, whichever is greater. Kaufman County set the base fine for these citations at $150. These cameras must be in place for all hours school is in session. Any hour they were not deployed will cost the county $50 per hour.
For the School Bus cameras, ATS received 50% of the collected revenue, with the base citations set by the county at $350. These cameras also came with a quota. If each camera did not result in .75 violations per day, the county had to pay a fee of $50 per bus camera per school day. In other words, if the county’s four bus cameras didn’t ticket at least three people illegally passing, the county was out $200 each school day. Taxpayers of Kaufman County were obligated to pay ATS even if they obeyed the traffic laws and drove safely.
The county was also responsible for all the new court costs, as well as ATS’s fees. ATS would initially pay to interface with the county court system, but expected to be reimbursed as soon as revenues hit the account. The county also had to handle all the additional citation disputes adding to workload, payroll, and other overhead costs associated with administering the program. According to the contract, the county also shouldered the responsibility for inbound and outbound calls from defendants with questions.
Counties that contract with ATS must also contract with a debt collection agency such as Linebarger, Goggan, Blair, and Sampson, and must pursue collections within 10 days after expiration of a second notice.
County Judge Bruce Wood knew when he signed the contract that the county would start out with a large deficit before it could see any net revenue. The upfront training and setup fees would cost thousands and the 30-day warning period would cost thousands more. During that 30 days, the county paid ATS $2,900 per camera plus $2 for every issued notice.
The financial burden was clear, yet Judge Wood continued to claim the contract would not cost the county anything. Wood either bought into the dishonesty sold by ATS, or was himself dishonest to Kaufman County taxpayers.
Kaufman County officials have still not been held accountable for its unlawful contract with American Traffic Solutions. Residents who were unlawfully fined have still not been repaid. While Wood has already announced he will not run for reelection, his supporters continue to hold elected office in Kaufman County.
*For Part 3, click HERE.