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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau's school-zone speed cameras may be on the way out

Cars drive past the speed camera on Maple

Cars drive past the speed camera on Maple Avenue near St. Brigid Our Lady of Hope Regional School on Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 in Westbury. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Could Nassau's hated school-zone speed cameras be heading off into the sunset?

It's likely, and maybe even before the end of this year.

But that's only if Nassau officials can identify other revenue sources, along with a way to ensure that motorists continue slowing down in school zones.

Last week, County Executive Edward Mangano surprised some fellow Republicans by curtailing camera operations by two-thirds, from 11 hours a day down to four -- only during times when students actually are arriving and departing schools.

Mangano said he made the change for three reasons: Motorists actually are slowing down in school zones; program revenue, as a result, is seeing a steep decline; and Nassau residents remain up in arms.

"We looked around at what other states did and decided to cut hours back to when children get to school and when they leave," he said.

Mangano also had received a warning from Nassau Republican Party officials. "It was made clear to the county executive that the speed cameras were toxic," one said.

Politically, the program is not toxic for Mangano, who has three more years on his term. But next year, the entire county legislature, where Republicans have a majority, is up for re-election.

For Republican lawmakers, resident anger over cameras -- in addition to the delegation's decision against stopping a property tax increase -- would not make campaigning easy.

Mangano declined to comment on lawmakers' upcoming campaigns, citing the independence of Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves of East Meadow and the legislative branch.

For her part, Gonsalves said she is working to determine whether the program can be repealed with no impact on safety, or on the cash-strapped county's finances.

"We want to do the right thing," she said, noting that if Republican lawmakers decide to repeal the existing program, "that doesn't mean that we can't do it again. But if we reinstated it, we've learned our lesson and we can do it right."

In any event, Gonsalves said she plans on meeting with Nassau's police commissioner to determine how, and whether, the department could step in should the cameras come down.

Just as Mangano surprised Gonsalves by announcing new operating hours for the cameras, Mangano said Gonsalves surprised him by announcing that she might seek to repeal the program. "I read it in the paper," he said.

Still, Mangano said he was open to discussion and debate with Republican lawmakers on the existing program. "There's a cost attached to canceling it; there are costs the county incurred in putting the program in place," he said. "There's also safety, and there's addressing next year's budget, which relies on revenues from the program."

But what if lawmakers kill the program? Would Mangano seek to override their decision? Mangano said that would depend on the size of the vote, and on how much impact losing the program would have on safety and finances.

One option on finances: joining with Suffolk to revive an old request to Albany lawmakers for permission to raise Long Island's sales tax to the level of New York City's. Another, of course, would be to selectively place cameras in school zones where they are needed.

Gonsalves is not wild about that sales tax idea, and a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said she did not immediately have enough information to respond to an inquiry on the matter.

As for Suffolk's school-zone camera program, Vanessa Baird-Streeter, Bellone's spokeswoman, said the county was being deliberative about the process.

Cameras are slated to be installed toward the end of next year -- likely after Election Day for Bellone, who will be up for re-election, too.

Meanwhile, it's looking likely that Nassau's school-zone camera program could come a tumbling down -- less than a year after implementation.

If that happens, yes, it's politics -- but also a win for Nassau's very angry residents.

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