Nassau lawmakers OK speed cameras request to state

Nassau lawmakers on Thursday, April 17, 2014, approved a resolution that asks the state to authorize speed cameras in school zones. Chris Mistron, the county's traffic safety coordinator, discussed a recent study that caught an average of 200 motorists an hour going 25 mph or more above school-zone speed limits. (Credit: News 12 Long Island)

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Nassau lawmakers have approved a resolution that asks the state to authorize new speed cameras in school zones -- a crucial part of lifting a three-year wage freeze on most county workers.

The county legislature Thursday unanimously passed a "home rule message" formally requesting the State Senate, Assembly and governor to approve a four-year program that would place the cameras in 56 school zones and institute a $50 fine for violators. State lawmakers didn't include the speed cameras in their recently passed budget, but will consider a stand-alone bill by the end of April.

"Parents are unwilling to let their children walk to schools because they just don't feel safe," said county traffic safety coordinator Chris Mistron, noting that a study caught an average of 200 motorists an hour going 25 mph or more above school-zone speed limits.

Despite the cameras' link to the labor deals, Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said it was statistics such as that driving her support. "Yes, revenue is a benefit," she said, "but we know in our hearts safety is the real issue."

Still, County Executive Edward Mangano estimates new speed cameras can bring in between $25 million and $30 million a year, helping Nassau to reinstate pay raises to roughly 8,000 of its union workers.

The labor deals could cost anywhere from $120 million to $190 million, counting savings from employee attrition. Mangano, however, said they'll ultimately save hundreds of millions of dollars through concessions such as new, lower salary scales for future county hires.

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"Let's face it: we have to raise more revenues, so if there's a way to raise revenues and still get the public safety end, that's good," said Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta.

Suffolk will vote on its home rule message for the cameras next week.

The Nassau Legislature last week approved the agreements with four of five unions, but the county's state fiscal control board -- the Nassau Interim Finance Authority -- has delayed its vote, in part to first see if the speed cameras will be approved by the state.

Democrats in the county legislative minority last week blocked approving the home rule message on an emergency basis, saying they didn't believe Mangano's revenue projections. The state legislation would require the county to share revenue with villages, and the county's comptroller and legislative budget office have projected revenues could average only $12 million to $14 million a year.

Thursday, Democrats again questioned the speed camera revenue projections, but supported the home rule message because they said it will improve safety and is crucial to lifting the freeze on workers -- some of whom have been long stuck at salaries below $30,000.

But broader questions about the county's fiscal state remain. Comptroller George Maragos last week said Nassau's sales tax revenue for the first three months of 2014 was down nearly 15 percent compared with the same period last year.

Mangano is counting on sales tax receipts to come in beyond what is budgeted in coming years to help pay for the labor deals.

Maragos said that sales tax revenue must now rise by 6.5 percent for the rest of 2014 just to not create a budget deficit.

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