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Cedar Rapids will pay up to $1.2 million to settle lawsuit over traffic cameras

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Interstate 380 — Zak Neumann/Little Village

The city of Cedar Rapids will pay up to $1.2 million as part of a class action lawsuit settlement that received final approval on Thursday by a state district court judge. The lawsuit challenged the methods the city used to collect unpaid traffic camera fines.

Under the terms of the settlement, the city will issue $250 to each of the 10 plaintiffs. Payment to plaintiffs’ attorneys for fees will be no more than $573,194. The class members whose claims received court approval were notified and will be refunded, up to $639,252.

The city also agreed not to collect $14 million in unpaid fines for citations issued before Aug. 31, 2018. The city did not admit any wrongdoing as part of the settlement.

The Cedar Rapids City Council voted unanimously in December to settle the class action lawsuit, which was filed in January 2018, a month after the city sent 221,000 notices to people with unpaid traffic camera citations. People were told to pay or the outstanding amount would be sent to the Iowa Department of Administrative Service’s offset program for collection with a late payment fee.

The offset program is used to collect debts owed to state and local government agencies. It seizes all state payments — including state tax refunds — to an individual until the debt has been paid. The city was also turning over unpaid fines to a private collection agency, Municipal Collections of America.

The lawsuit alleged the city was violating the due process rights of motorists because it treated people who hadn’t responded to its traffic fine notices as if they had been found guilty in a judicial proceeding, even though the alleged violation had never been submitted to a judge. The lawsuit also alleged the city’s process for appealing a ticket was inadequate.

Cedar Rapids began using the automated cameras in 2010, but stopped in mid-2017, while a series of lawsuits worked their way through the courts. In January 2019, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of the city, saying Cedar Rapids’ traffic cameras were legal.

The city council approved reactivating the cameras in May 2019. The month of June served as a warning period for drivers, and the cameras were officially reactivated again on July 1, 2019.

A total of 177,713 citations for speeding and red light violations have been issued from July 2019 to April 2020, according to monthly reports. The majority of the citations — 98 percent — were for speeding. In 2016 — the last full year before the cameras were deactivated — 143,800 tickets were given out.

Nearly $7.4 million has been generated in fines since July 1, 2019.

The city receives $55 from a $75 speeding ticket and $78 from a $100 red light violation. The remainder goes to Sensys Gatso USA (formerly Gatso USA), a Massachusetts-based company that runs the traffic camera system.

During his third State of the City address, Mayor Brad Hart said 10 new police officers were added this year “to proactively address neighborhood concerns and community policing issues.” (The money previously went to the city’s general fund.)

“We’re committed to using those funds for police and other public safety initiatives that support the well-being and safety of our community,” Hart said in February.

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