The Denton County Commissioners Court agreed to move forward Tuesday in considering installing traffic cameras in school zones throughout the county.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to create a board to study the issue, with Precinct 1 Commissioner Hugh Coleman casting the dissenting vote. County Judge Mary Horn was not present for that portion of the meeting.
If the deal is approved, the county would become one of the first in the state to use the cameras — similar to red-light cameras at intersections — for school zone safety.
Representatives with American Traffic Solutions told commissioners that their product could enhance school zone safety by taking a photo of license plates of motorists violating the speed limit in school zones throughout the county.
So far, no county in the state is using American Traffic Solutions for school zone enforcement, but a spokesman with the company said Hildago County in South Texas entered into a contract with the business last month and is expected to roll out a school zone safety program sometime after the new year.
Greg Parks, a representative for American Traffic Solutions, told commissioners that a camera’s photos would have to be validated by someone at the Denton County Sheriff’s Office and it would be the issuing authority of the fine. The motorist would be issued a citation and not a criminal violation, officials said.
“There is no question that speeding in school zones exists,” said Charles Territo, a spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, during a phone interview Tuesday. “Waiting for a school zone-related tragedy to occur when steps can be taken to minimize that risk is up to the Denton County commissioners.”
Sheriff Will Travis said his office still has lots of questions about the product and would like to gather more information before anything proceeds.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell said she was against forcing anything on area cities, and the police departments should be in charge of school zone enforcement.
Territo said the program doesn’t cost a thing for the county up front and only operational fees are put in place after the cameras have been up and generating enough revenue to pay for themselves.
The percentage paid out, he said, varies with each county contract but averages out so that 60 percent of the fine goes to the county and 40 percent goes to American Traffic Solutions.
Coleman said he doesn’t want to get involved because he believes what the company wants to do is outside the county’s legal capacity.
At this time, cities are prohibited from using automated enforcement, but Territo said he feels that does not prohibit counties from doing so.
“The best solution is to hire additional law enforcement,” Coleman said. “I don’t think we should get into public safety for profit.”
The commissioners’ vote Tuesday will set up a board that includes Precinct 2 Commissioner Ron Marchant, Tax Assessor/Collector Michelle French and a sheriff’s office employee to review concerns and legalities of the program to be brought back to the court after the new year.
American Traffic Solutions has provided the town of Little Elm with three red-light cameras on U.S. Highway 380 since April 2010, Little Elm police Sgt. Jay Compton said.
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.