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Nassau, Suffolk move to kill school speed camera programs

Cars drive past the speed camera set up

Cars drive past the speed camera set up in front of Dutch Broadway School on Dutch Broadway on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 in Elmont. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone announced Monday he will kill the county's school speed camera program, as the GOP legislative leader in Nassau filed legislation to end that county's program.

The moves were reactions to Nassau's controversial rollout of cameras, which has sparked criticism that the $80 tickets represent more a tactic to raise new revenues than improve school safety.

Bellone acknowledged that public anger helped reverse his position on speed cameras.

"We have seen issues with implementation across the country and on Long Island," Bellone said at a news conference in Hauppauge, flanked by Democratic and Republican lawmakers. "To be sustainable over time, a program needs public support."

In Nassau County, majority Republicans will announce repeal legislation at a news conference Tuesday in Mineola, said Presiding Officer Legis. Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow). Legislative Democrats already have filed repeal legislation.

Gonsalves said through a spokesman that while the camera program was "well-intentioned and passed unanimously, it was poorly implemented." She didn't detail how the legislature will fill the expected budget hole caused by a repeal. Nassau lawmakers expect to vote on the repeal at their final meeting of the year on Monday.

A road safety advocate called the Suffolk rollback "hasty."

"They had an opportunity to not repeat the mistakes that Nassau County did," said Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. She called speed cameras effective, saying, "they change motorists' behavior."

Suffolk's announcement and the Nassau legislation appeared to signal the death of the school speed camera program on Long Island.

County leaders had said cameras would increase public safety while also raising millions of dollars to plug budget deficits.

But there has been a growing public backlash. Lawmakers in both counties are up for re-election in November 2015, as is Bellone. Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, who has not announced if he will support the repeal efforts, was re-elected last year.

Nassau is in the process of installing cameras in 56 school districts, and officials have estimated $30 million in revenue next year. Suffolk is authorized to install one camera in each of its 69 school districts. The program had been slated to begin late next year, and the county has budgeted $2.5 million in revenue next year.

The programs were approved by the State Legislature, after support by Bellone and Mangano. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the legislation in June.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin did not indicate Monday whether the administration would support the repeal legislation. But he said, "Given Suffolk's actions, we believe the Nassau County Legislature will repeal the program as well."

Mangano has said motorists have slowed down in school zones, citing a 70 percent reduction in tickets issued between September and November. But he has stopped short of supporting an end to the speed camera program.

Nassau would owe about $3 million in termination fees to its vendor, American Traffic Solutions in Arizona. Those fees vary but kick in during the first two years of the contract. ATS has lobbied to get the speed camera contract in Suffolk.

Last week, Mangano drastically cut back the cameras' hours of operation.

"I'm happy to see that they've garnered the strength to do what's right for the people," said Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury). "This whole program has been unfair."

Only three Suffolk lawmakers voted against the original speed camera legislation: Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore) and Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga).

Before Bellone made his announcement, legislative Republicans had just announced a news conference for Tuesday to call for an end to the camera program.

Republican Minority Leader Kevin J. McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), said Bellone's "impromptu news conference" was spurred by Republican plans. "I'm happy that he's seen the light on the issue."

Trotta said, "Bellone might get a speed camera ticket himself as fast as he is backpedaling."Bellone went to Albany in February to ask state lawmakers to allow Suffolk to authorize the cameras. "Speed cameras are used in cities across the nation and have proved effective in reducing traffic accidents and saving lives," he said then.Bellone acknowledged Monday that his thoughts on the cameras had "evolved" since the controversy erupted in Nassau. "We have done some deeper analysis now, as we moved toward implementation," he said.

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