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Inside City Hall: Speed cameras, not supposed to cost a dime, will now require $2.2 million

Board of Estimates agrees to pay half the cost of 72 new speed cameras.

Above: A speed camera, currently disabled, in the 4500 block of North Charles Street today.

It was a deal meant to warm the heart of any hard-pressed taxpayer.

The new vendor of Baltimore’s speed camera program would pay all of the upfront costs, letting the city kick back and enjoy the revenue stream from machine-caught speeders and red-light violators.

That was the spin last November 7, when the Board of Estimates awarded the camera contract to Brekford, Corp., shunning industry giant, Xerox State & Local Solutions, which had operated the cameras since 1999.

In lauding the Anne Arundel County vendor, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said, “Brekford won. It’s the cheapest. But it wasn’t scored just on cost alone. They came out on top.”

This morning the same Board of Estimates agreed to amend the contract with Brekford – and to pay the company $2.2 million to buy a platoon of new speed cameras.

What Happened?

When Brekford took over the system from Xerox on January 1, it found that Xerox had taken the software necessary to operate the system. This rendered the speed cameras inoperative.

Brekford is now replacing those cameras – and today the city agreed to pay half the cost of the replacement.

It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

In the city’s solicitation of a vendor for its “Automatic Traffic Violation Enforcement System,” all bidders were told that they would assume all of the costs of operating the system and would share a portion of the fines paid to the city.

Here are the relevant passages of the city’s Request for Proposals issued last summer:

“The resulting contract shall be revenue generating and the City will not pay to the selected Vendor any other fees, except the set sum proposed by the Vendor and accepted by the City for each occurrence based on violations paid. . .

“It shall be the Vendor’s responsibility to operate and maintain Red Light and Speed Cameras (fixed, mobile, PCU’s [portable camera units]) and all other necessary field equipment at all existing locations.”

The bid document went on to say: “Although the City considers the current equipment to be adequate in achieving the program goals, the Vendor may change software or hardware at its own cost without any interruptions in operation.”

Cameras Inoperative Since January

In addition to the cost of buying the new cameras, there’s been a major interruption in speed camera operations.

Except for 10 Brekford-programmed cameras, there are 72 speed cameras  that apparently haven’t operated since January 1.

Here is the full entry of the speed camera contract listed last November 7 in the Board of Estimates agenda.

This is the full entry that was publicly disclosed in the Board of Estimates agenda regarding the speed camera contract last November.

Price is “Fair and Reasonable”

The city isn’t saying how much the 3½-month gap has cost the city, but in the last fiscal year the speed cameras alone brought in $19 million.

City Comptroller Joan Pratt pressed the city administration to find out why the contract has not been rebid, so that the city could determine the best price on the cameras that needed replacement.

Chief purchasing agent Timothy M. Krus responded that “we are convinced it [Brekford’s price] is fair and reasonable.”

Krus said the original contract called on bidders to price out the cost of their cameras, and Brekford’s price was approximately half that of other bidders. (He said he did not have the specific prices readily at hand.)

When asked if the city planned to pursue any legal action against Xerox, Krus said, “We are still speaking with the original vendor,” but indicated that the city was not aggressively seeking any financial redress.

How Panel Voted

Arnold Jolivet, managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association, described the city’s award of $2.2 million to Brekford as a “major herculean change” to the contract and said the panel was violating the City Charter that calls for contracts over $50,000 to be competitively awarded.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young rejected Jolivet’s arguments and voted to ratify the $2.2 million award. They were joined by City Solicitor George Nilson and Public Works Director Alfred Foxx.

Young said he was approving the amended contract because it allowed Calmi Electrical, Inc., a minority contractor, to participate in the program.

Pratt voiced the only “no” vote, saying that “the information I received yesterday is in conflict with the information I heard today.”

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