PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Providence city treasurer is partially withholding payments to the city’s private speed camera operator amid a dispute between the City Council and Mayor Jorge Elorza’s administration.
City Treasurer James Lombardi said he’s been withholding checks to Conduent State and Local Solutions, Inc. for about six months, after learning that neither the City Council nor the Board of Contract and Supply had approved a 2018 amendment to the city’s contract with the company.
The matter was the subject of a heated dispute at a meeting of the council’s Finance Committee on Tuesday.
“I refused to pay the checks because this was a change that was not approved by the council,” Lombardi, a council appointee, said at the meeting. “I don’t think this was a good negotiated deal.”
The city renegotiated its contract with Conduent last year after a state law was changed limiting speed camera hours and fines. Previously, Providence was operating the school-zone cameras seven days a week, 365 days a year, even when school was not in session.
Amid outrage from residents and a class-action lawsuit, state lawmakers passed a bill to limit speed camera operation to Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m., and no operation from July 1 to Aug. 15.
The new law also changed the cost of a ticket from $95 to $50.
Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told the committee Tuesday that the city had to renegotiate the deal with Conduent in 2018 to reflect the more limited hours, and in doing so increased the amount the city is paying Conduent per speed camera ticket from $7.40 to $7.90.
The new contract — signed by Paré and Conduent on Aug. 14, 2018 — also pays Conduent for violations during the 30-day warning period for new camera locations, even though no ticket is issued. The company was not previously being paid for warning tickets.
Paré said the increase in per-ticket payments to Conduent was included because of the significant revenue loss caused by cutting the speed camera hours of operation in half. But Finance Chairman John Igliozzi criticized it as a “unilateral operation” by the Elorza administration to change the terms without approval.
City solicitor Jeff Dana said the contract amendment did not have to go back to the Board of Contract and Supply or the City Council because it was not a “substantive” change.
“That’s absolutely ridiculous,” shot back Gina Costa, the city’s internal auditor.
Dana also said the company could potentially sue the city for not complying with the newly amended contract.
Lombardi said he initially withheld more than $2 million from the company over a series of months, which included all of the services provided by Conduent including red light cameras. But he released most of that money to the company after figuring out how to parse out only the increase in funding related to the 2018 speed camera contract amendment.
He said he is currently withholding more than $200,000 from Conduent.
“It’s just astounding to me that we’re paying this company so much,” Councilwoman Helen Anthony remarked. She said she thought the city should renegotiate a better deal, or consider options to terminate the contract.
Igliozzi said he’d like to see the contract renegotiated, and suggested that the amendment as is would likely fail on the council floor. He directed Lombardi to release any money owed to Conduent, and then start following the contract prior to the 2018 amendment.
A spokesperson for Conduent said the company’s goal is to make streets and communities safer.
“The City of Providence is an important client for us, and we value the opportunity to continue our support,” the spokesperson said in an email.
Paré said despite the debate over the finances, both the red light and speed cameras are working in making streets safer.
“It saves lives,” Paré said. “While it could’ve been rolled out differently, I’ll readily admit, it protects our kids in our school zones from people who have no regard for speed.”