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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Debate over speed cameras turns abruptly to money

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

The safety versus money debate over Nassau's school-zone speed camera program abruptly turned back toward money Wednesday.

That's when County Executive Edward Mangano fired off a round at county lawmakers who are determined to repeal the program Monday at the last legislative meeting of the year.

Should lawmakers act as even Mangano expects they will, repeal will blast a $30 million hole in the same budget they approved only weeks ago.

The potential for such a gap has raised concerns at Wall Street bond rating agencies.

One of them asked Nassau officials in an email Monday how the county intended to fill the hole -- and whether a repeal would have to be approved by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the state control board overseeing county finances.

(The answer there, by the way, appears to be no.)

The email -- coupled with the administration's effort to determine just how many millions of dollars it could cost to terminate the camera contract with the outside vendor -- led Mangano to give lawmakers an ultimatum of sorts.

His list of potential cuts -- from youth services to ending a stipend to Nassau University Medical Center early to reducing the number of county employees -- could impact services to Nassau residents.

Also on the list is an option that some in the Mangano administration favor -- suspending, rather than repealing, the camera program until flashing warning lights are installed.

Mangano could -- as he did for thousands of tickets issued early in the program -- suspend the program on his own.

However, he said he would not.

"The legislature is the one with the proposal on the table," he said in an interview Wednesday. "I wouldn't want to get ahead of them."

Besides, while a few lawmakers may favor suspension over repeal, "I'm not counting on that, which is why I made that the last item on the suggestion list," Mangano said.

Some of Mangano's fellow Republicans put the situation more bluntly, noting that some GOP officials have been telling elected officials on the town and county levels that every single one of them could lose re-election in November if the camera program remains in place.

"Politically, the cameras are dead," one county official said.

Mangano last week reduced the cameras' operating hours by two-thirds.

He did so, one Republican said, after hearing from administration budget officials that the program had produced more than sufficient revenue for the current budget year -- and would continue to do so in 2015, even with reduced hours.

Some residents saw Mangano's move as vindication that the program was more about money than safety, because the administration now was leaving stretches of the school day unmonitored.

Meanwhile some of Nassau's elected officials saw it as the latest chapter in the program's flawed implementation.

Either way, Mangano's move produced even more public and political pressure in Nassau to kill the camera program -- even as in Suffolk, County Executive Steve Bellone killed the program before it was even implemented.

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