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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

School-zone speeding tickets at sites without signs to be voided

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic

A sign warns motorists of a speed traffic camera in front of the Unqua Elementary School on Unqua Road in Massapequa. Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

Attention, drivers who traveled near schools in Massapequa, Syosset, Hempstead, Malverne and Valley Stream early last week.

Some of you who may have noticed camera flashes while you were driving more than 10 mph over posted school zone limits were lucky enough to dodge tickets.

That's because Nassau -- in relaunching its school-zone speed camera program last week -- hit another snag.

The county couldn't process citations in some locations because they lacked state-mandated warning signs.

As a result, Nassau Executive Edward Mangano said the county would do two things:

First, citations from last week will be processed only for locations where signage was in place specifying via text or blinking yellow lights when cameras are operating.

Although cameras operated at 20 locations across the county, citations issued only in 12 of them would be processed, Mangano said.

The county provided a list of five locations that had cameras but no signs. They were: Unqua Elementary School in Massapequa; Baylis Elementary in Syosset; Franklin School in Hempstead; Howard Herber School in Malverne and Valley Stream Central High School. There was no information on the remaining three locations.

But don't get too excited.

According to Mangano, the county by Friday had added signs at the locations. He said county employees would survey locations slated to come online this week to ensure that the issue does not come up again.

All of which brings us to another Mangano move.

He said he wants the county to investigate the possibility of taking on the job -- and expense -- of putting up school-zone speed warning signs at every school in the county.

"I've asked public works for an estimate and I want to submit a proposal to the legislature," Mangano said. He noted that the county was exploring a number of options, including using solar power to fuel blinking yellow lights or adding to existing signage in a way that also would satisfy state requirements for school-zone speed cameras.

Under a different state law, Nassau is not responsible for traffic signage near schools. That job rests with Nassau's towns, villages and cities.

"We are going to take the initiative in this," Mangano said. He said that he would welcome municipalities who wanted to join the effort.

Town, village and city officials may have mixed feelings about Mangano's initiative.

The municipalities, many of which are, like Nassau, working with tight budgets, are entitled to a portion of revenues Nassau garners from school-zone speed cameras. But some officials could be squeamish about potential political fallout from the program, which is generating considerable anger from residents.

A Friday posting on Spin Cycle, Newsday's political blog, by reporter Celeste Hadrick noted that to meet predicted net revenue projections of $30 million from the cameras, Nassau would have to issue 491,803 tickets that stand up in court annually.

With total voter registration in Nassau at 944,389, that number of tickets is equal to about half of Nassau's registered voters getting ticketed annually. "And the other half," Hadrick wrote, "are probably related to the first half and will not be happy."

The program has become such a political issue that Republicans and Democrats are pointing out that county and state lawmakers in both parties backed the measure, which required approval from Albany.

"This was unanimously voted on in the county legislature," said Mangano, a Republican. "We are not running away from it, it is not a gotcha and we are working to make sure it accomplishes what it is supposed to: Slowing drivers down in school zones."

Suffolk, meanwhile, is taking its time in implementing its school-zone speed camera program, putting it off until later than initially had been expected next year.

Which, given the program's stormy reception in Nassau, is probably a wise move.

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