Aurora mulls special election asking voters to ban or back photo red-light program

"I'm reluctant to put this on the November ballot," she said during the meeting. "The November ballot is going to be so contorted with so many issues."

AURORA | With the potential for a crowded ballot in November, some Aurora City Council members are looking to have a separate, special election next year where voters could decide whether to keep or remove the city’s lucrative photo red-light program.

At an Aurora City Council public safety policy committee meeting Thursday, April 21, committee members delayed voting on three separate measures that would ask voters this fall whether the city should continue issuing photo red-light tickets to drivers.

Ward I Councilwoman Sally Mounier is behind a measure that would ask voters for a “yes” or “no” on a measure to prohibit the city from issuing photo-red light traffic tickets. Voting “yes” would in effect ban the cameras.

“I’m reluctant to put this on the November ballot,” she said during the meeting. “The November ballot is going to be so contorted with so many issues.”

In addition to the usual slate of even-year county, state and congressional elections, the 2016 ballot is expected to feature a number of statewide ballot measures. According to BallotPedia, at least 39 initiatives have been drafted for the 2016 ballot in Colorado, although many will not ultimately make the ballot.

Mounier’s ordinance describes Aurora’s photo red-light program as being “steeped in controversy” since the program began. It goes on to state that Aurora residents consider the cameras an invasion of privacy and have questions about paying for a program that is not perceived to be making Aurora safer.

Mounier said she also wanted to use the special election to re-introduce a ballot measure seeking the repeal of a ban on incentives for motorsports facilities. Aurora voters narrowly rejected that measure last year.

Ward IV Councilman Charlie Richardson agreed with Mounier about photo red-light getting lost in a sea of ballot measures if added to the pile this November.

He said he also wanted to wait for a special election in April to go forward with his own question to Aurora voters that would ask whether they want to continue the city’s photo-red light program if all of the money goes to nonprofits that aid Aurora law enforcement.

The photo red-light program brings in approximately $3.3 million annually, according to Aurora police. But not all of that goes to nonprofits. In 2015, about $1.1 million of photo red-light revenues went to a  “nexus” program that supports nonprofits who provide a substantial service to law enforcement.

“I want to support these agencies,” Richardson said. “They support such fundamentally good community services.”

Those nonprofits included Comitis Crisis Center, Arapahoe House, Sungate Kids, Gateway Battered Women’s Shelter, Aurora Mental Health Center and Metro Community Provider Network.

At-large Councilman Bob LeGare said he did not think his proposal to ask voters whether they want to continue the photo red-light program needed special circumstances to be understood.

“This could go on November’s ballot with no special election cost,” he said.

LeGare said although he is not on board with the city having a special election next year, he wanted all of the measures to be considered together by council and agreed to wait to have his proposal reviewed.

At-Large Councilwoman Barb Cleland, who chairs the committee, said the ballot questions would likely come back to the committee later this summer. She said in the meantime, city staff would look at the costs associated with having a special election next spring.

Council members recently delayed voting on renewing a contract with photo red-light provider Xerox, that would extend the company’s services to July 2017.

The city has 14 photo red-light cameras at 10 intersections, and Aurora Police have discussed expanding the program, stating the cameras work and make the city safer.

Aurora’s 2017 contract with Xerox, if approved, would include $12,000 paid by Xerox and matched by the city toward a $24,000 intersection study to look at where else the cameras could be placed in the city. According to city documents, the study would not begin until late this year or early 2017, and revenue from the photo red-light program would pay for any remaining costs.

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