Suffolk lawmakers back school-zone speed cameras

Suffolk County asked state legislators for permission to Suffolk County asked state legislators for permission to install speed cameras in dozens of school zones -- a program that supporters said would increase safety for children and raise an estimated $6.8 million a year for the county. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Xerox

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Suffolk County Tuesday asked state legislators for permission to install speed cameras in dozens of school zones -- a program supporters said would increase safety for children and raise an estimated $6.8 million a year for the county.

The State Legislature is considering allowing one camera per school district in Suffolk and Nassau counties, and allow New York City to expand the number of speed cameras from the current 20 to 140. There are 69 school districts in Suffolk County and 56 in Nassau.

Proponents, including officials with Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said legislation under consideration by the state Assembly and Senate would boost safety for children.

Opponents -- along with some supporters -- said the cameras are merely a way to raise revenue in an era of tight county budgets.

The "home rule message" asking the State Legislature to authorize the cameras passed at a special meeting of the Suffolk Legislature. A bipartisan group of 14 members voted yes, and three Republicans voted no. Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) abstained because the administration had not responded to questions about how the camera program would be implemented.

The speed cameras would lead to ticketing of drivers who go more than 10 miles per hour over the school zone speed limit. The cameras would operate during public school hours and an hour before and after school. They also would be active a half-hour before, during and after other school events.

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Traffic fines under the proposed law would be $50.

Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who supports the program, said, "We have citizens crying out for more enforcement of speed limits in front of schools. It's a safety issue."

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) called the speed cameras "nothing more than a revenue grab." He said placing speed cameras in school zones "was using kids. You can't say no to kids."

But Legis. Thomas F. Barraga (R-West Islip), a proponent of the cameras, said, "the bottom line is we need dollars."

The county would decide where to locate the speed cameras, Anderson said. The proposed state law would allow, but not require, warnings to be posted where there are speed cameras.

County officials have not determined the types of cameras that would be used. Anderson said one option is for the county to amend its contract with the operator of its red light cameras, Xerox. The company offers fixed cameras installed on poles and mobile cameras, according to its website.

Suffolk's estimate of new revenue is based on the 46 school districts within the western part of the county. The five eastern towns have their own courts and will collect their own revenue from any speed cameras. County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the estimate is based on 20 tickets a day being issued per speed camera, with a 70 percent collection rate.

Nassau is estimating $25 million to $30 million in new annual revenue once all 56 speed cameras are operational, deputy county executive for finance Tim Sullivan said in a statement.

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The estimate is based on numbers provided by Nassau's vendor for red light cameras for violations in school zones.Nassau is using those anticipated revenues as part of a deal to end a wage freeze for county workers.

Nassau County and New York City have passed home rule messages asking the state to approve the speed cameras.

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