Suffolk red-light camera expansion delayed

Motorists are warned by this sign about red-light Motorists are warned by this sign about red-light cameras in Centereach. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, 2011

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Full expansion of Suffolk's red-light camera program has been pushed to January, delaying $7 million in expected new revenue.

County Executive Steve Bellone received state approval in early 2012 to double the number of intersections with cameras from 50 to 100. The Suffolk County Legislature approved the expansion last June, and Bellone estimated $7 million in new revenue in this year's budget. The county faces a projected $250- million shortfall through 2014.

But administration officials said this week that the first new cameras won't be operational until October and the rest not until early 2014. Negotiations with the firm that supplies and installs them took longer than expected, county officials said.

Under its previous contract with Xerox, Suffolk received 42 percent of revenue from tickets generated at the first 50 camera-equipped intersections. The county has extended the contract for six more years, doubling the number of intersections the company will operate. In exchange, Suffolk will receive 58 percent of revenue.

"That was the trade-off," Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said. "If we can negotiate a better deal for the county, it makes more sense than committing to a worse split just to get the cameras up sooner."

Xerox declined to comment. Nassau County, which also received state approval last year to add 50 new red-light camera intersections to the 50 it was operating, said 13 have been activated so far. It budgeted $19.3 million from the program this year.

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Suffolk officials say public safety is the primary purpose of red-light cameras. But they also lobbied for more of them to help cut the budget deficit.

Schneider said the county may not meet the $7-million revenue projection this year. But he said the budgetary impact will be lessened by revenue from a new $30 administrative ticket fee in addition to the $50 ticket and from the higher revenue split with Xerox for existing cameras.

During the first three months of this year, the county increased red-light camera revenue by about $200,000 compared with the last three months of 2012, officials said. The new administrative fee, which became effective April 1, will bring in an estimated $3.4 million this year.

Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-East Islip) said the terms of the county's new contract with Xerox likely justify the delay. However, he questioned whether the county can make up for the reduction in projected ticket revenue.

"It seems like one thing after the other the administration has counted on for revenue hasn't come through," he said, noting delays in closing a $20-million land sale in Yaphank and a stalled $70-million plan to sell and lease back county buildings. "We keep getting knocked down."

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