Steve Bellone pushes plan for speed cameras near schools

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Jan. 23, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Jan. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday asked state legislators for the power to install cameras to catch speeders in school zones, an initiative that would expand the current system that nabs drivers who run red lights.

Bellone proposed putting cameras near 20 school sites during a meeting with Long Island's state lawmakers in Albany. He said the initiative would bring in $2 million a year in revenues.

"Speed cameras are used in cities across the nation and have proved effective in reducing traffic accidents and saving lives," Bellone said in his pitch to state lawmakers. He said his initiative resembles a pilot project in New York City that has just started.

Bellone wants authority to put the new cameras at sites within a quarter-mile of schools, where speed limits range from 20 to 25 miles per hour. Owners of speeding vehicles caught on camera would receive notices of liability and face fines of $50, but no points on their licenses.

The state in 2009 authorized Suffolk to put red-light cameras at 50 intersections and approved another 100 sites in 2012.

Bellone needs to renew authority for the red-light cameras for another four years, and he said the program has reduced accidents at red-light camera intersections by 10 percent. He said violations issued at intersections with cameras went down by 30 percent between 2012 and 2013.

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Suffolk has 189 cameras at 90 intersections, with more on the way. The 2014 Suffolk budget estimates the county will generate $19 million in red-light camera fines.

Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst) said Bellone Tuesday recalled an accident in which a school crossing guard was hit by a speeder in Babylon several years ago. "That kind of thing resonates with people," Sweeney said. However, the speed-camera plan may be "a bit of a tough sell" since lawmakers have little experience with them, Sweeney said.

State Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) said red-light cameras may have slowed some drivers at critical intersections, but that many constituents view them as "overly intrusive" and primarily "a moneymaker."Also, Bellone put a local measure before the Suffolk Legislature to create penalties for traffic ticket scofflaws who fail to pay promptly. Parking fines, which range from $25 to $200, would double after 30 days and triple after 60.

Suffolk would impose new fees for judgments and defaults for those who fail to show up at the Traffic and Parking Violations Agency or pay fines for other violations. The proposal would institute $250 fees for cars that get booted and $350 for those towed.

Bellone aides say the local scofflaw proposal is aimed at the 10 to 15 percent of tickets for parking and other infractions that go unpaid, although they could not estimate what the county has lost so far or what new fees would bring in.

They said procedures for implementing the penalties and fees have not been determined, but emphasized booting and towing would only be used for vehicles with numerous tickets and large unpaid fines. Bellone also asked state lawmakers for an extra $10 million for the county bus system and $3 million to keep 1,000 children from losing day care. Bellone requested special legislation to allow the county police to absorb the county's 35 park police and bypass the existing police civil service list.

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