Red Light photo plan advances

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By Pat Hibbs

There will be no charge for investigation of traffic accidents within the City of Williston, but those who run red lights may be photographed and issued citations.

Those were the decisions of the city council at Tuesday evening's meeting.

Ordinance 570, which would have levied a $175 charge on those involved in accidents, was repealed. The repeal was the result of the passage of Ordinance 576, for which council voted 3-2, with council president Debra Jones and councilman Cal Byrd dissenting.

The proposal has had a rocky history. The charge was proposed in the fall of 2007 and immediately drew the ire of the public for many reasons, including the fact that city residents, who pay for police services through their taxes, would be included. City attorney Norm Fugate warned that unequal application of the rules could easily be challenged in court. The original ordinance also contained no language indicating that only the at-fault driver would be assessed the fee.

Despite the use of the system in Chiefland and Ocala's recent decision to implement the fines, the council, after some discussion, decided not to adopt the rules in Williston, at least for now.

On another traffic matter, council approved the second and final reading of Ordinance 581, regarding cameras at major intersections in the city to record those who violate red light laws. Councilmen Jake Cason and Jerry Robinson dissented.

The council emphasized that the new ordinance was passed for the purpose of allowing TraffiPax, the company offering the service, to perform a feasibility study for use of the system in Williston. The company provides the equipment at no cost to the city, and is compensated with a percentage of the fines paid.

Attorney Fugate has once again cautioned that the system might be challenged, and indeed the cameras may not be installed on property controlled by the Florida Department of Transportation. However, there is a bill pending for the 2008 Florida legislative session that would specifically permit the practice.

Council candidate Lindsey Hager asked why there was no language in the ordinance specifying a maximum period during which citations would be issued. WPD Lt. Clay Connolly, representing Chief Dan Davis, assured Hager that the department's intent was to process violations in a timely fashion. Attorney Fugate was asked to add clarifying verbiage to the ordinance.

Again, ordinance 581 does not establish the system as fact in Williston; it simply allows for the feasibility study at the moment.

Mayor Gerald Hethcoat raised the subject of collection of the School Board impact fees on new residential construction in the city. He said that the Board would pay the city two percent of the levy as a collection fee. The consensus seemed to be that two percent was not sufficient and that other avenues should be explored. City manager Jim Coleman suggested that the city establish four percent as its fee and experiment with it through the end of the fiscal year to determine whether that is sufficient to cover the city's administrative costs. Further negotiations will be held with the School Board.

Approval was granted for the use of the Johnny T. Henry Celebration Park for the Rotary Club's annual Easter Egg Hunt on the morning of March 8.

The question of sewer impact fees in the SW 7th Ave. area was raised. Council decided to waive the impact fees for existing residences in the neighborhood if they choose to connect to the city system before August 1, 2008. A connection fee is always assessed. All new residential construction is subject to the impact fees.

City manager Coleman asked the council to assent to form a county-wide committee for short-range strategic development.

The committee would take advantage of the experience of Citrus County in the construction of its nuclear power plant. Coleman has received a commitment from Progress Energy, which plans to build the plant in Inglis, to fund such a committee to assess the impact of the project on Levy County. Council gave its consent to Coleman proceeding with his plan by contacting county authorities and officials in other municipalities.

A special exception was granted, as recommended by the Planning and Zoning Board, for a restaurant near the airport.

Before the end of the meeting, council president Jones followed up on items that had been assigned to city departments over the past two meetings.

Coleman assured her that he had arranged for an appraisal of the projected new city hall (formerly the home of the Church of Latter-day Saints). He added that the letter of intent to buy the property could not be submitted until the appraisal is complete, but that he is working with Cookie King, the Realtor handling the building, to ensure that necessary steps are being taken as promptly as possible.

Arrington assured Jones that repairs had been made to the community center and that painting remained to be done.

Other items were left open for further action.

The next meeting of the city council will take place on Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers. The agenda may be picked up at City Hall on the Friday afternoon before the meeting or accessed online at the city's website, www.willistonfl.com.