The council voted 6-3 May 29 to commence negotiations with Affiliated Computer Services Inc., a private Texas-based company.
If negotiations go well, the next step will be to set up a series of test sites around town. The goal of the testing sites would be to determine the effectiveness and revenue potential of the camera system.
The proposal before the council is a 10-camera system at intersections throughout the downtown area.
Each camera will cost the town an estimated $65,000.
The costs for operations and maintenance for the cameras will fall to the company, which will take home the majority of the revenue produced from the $50 fines for red light violations.
The proposal has faced criticism from Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy and council members Mark Kleinschmidt and Bill Strom.
Kleinschmidt was adamant that the camera system not be put into effect.
"The whole idea is an abomination," Kleinschmidt said. "It's a massive violation of our citizens' civil liberties.
"Never did our founding fathers expect 24-hour surveillance of the populace."
He listed several concerns he has with the idea of using cameras as a means of controlling the public.
"A gas station with security cameras is one thing," Kleinschmidt said. "Having a Big Brother environment where the government hires out private companies to watch the citizens is essentially abdicating the power of the office."
Chapel Hill Town Manager Cal Horton said all the discussion may be for naught.
"We still don't know that this will be economically beneficial," Horton said. "We have to wait until we have the test results before we can determine whether we will continue with the program."
The program could potentially generate $2.9 million from fines.
But the bulk of the funds would go to Affiliated Computer Services Inc. for the operation of the cameras. The town would take in a little more than $850,000 per year.
Horton said money was not the motivating factor for bringing the proposal before the council.
"Our main goal is to change people's behavior," he said. "If we got no dollars at all and changed the behavior of our people, we'd be happy."
Kleinschmidt said the flaw with this line of reasoning is the fact that there has not been to date any data produced certifying that red-light running is a problem in the first place.
"If you care to look at the numbers, you would find that violations actually dropped in 2000-01," he said. "The ball's rolling on this one; I don't how much stopping there can be. I'm embarrassed by it."
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