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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Speed cameras: next year's campaign issue?

A speed limit sign is seen along Stewart

A speed limit sign is seen along Stewart Avenue in Bethpage on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. Credit: Jeremy Bales

A call from Democrats Monday to halt Nassau's speed camera program won't work -- because the county's need for revenue became even more acute last week when lawmakers in both parties killed a proposed property tax increase.

Since cameras first began operating in September, politicians have been feeling the burn of anger from residents complaining about almost everything connected with the school speed-zone camera program.

Residents have complained that signs are installed in locations where many motorists never see them -- and about locations where children aren't near the roadway at all because they're driven to the school door.

They're confused because County Executive Edward Mangano and lawmakers keep talking about adding yellow lights, which would flash during school hours, in school zones. That apparently left a lot of residents who were on the lookout for flashing yellow lights surprised when they got ticketed. But school hours posted on signs -- sans flashing lights -- are legally sufficient.

Motorists -- not all of them Nassau residents -- also have complained about obscured signage; and about being caught by cameras located far from the entrance to a school.

It wasn't until recently that elected officials -- county and state -- began raising questions that, frankly, should have come up before the program was even approved. Didn't county lawmakers realize, for example, that the report justifying the program had been put together by the vendor?

Then there's the safety issue: Given the perennial groundswell for neighborhood stop signs and traffic signals, safety efforts often rise from the bottom up.

School speed-zone cameras were imposed from the top down. And if keeping children safe were the priority, cameras would be in every county in the state rather than in municipalities like Nassau -- and next year in Suffolk -- facing budget crises.

Now we come to where Nassau Democratic lawmakers want to call a halt to the program until issues from signage to the timing of notifications can be ironed out. Meanwhile, Republicans are planning to borrow money to put up flashing lights.

All of this, when the job of putting up proper signage, and paying for it, doesn't even rest with Nassau but with the county's towns and villages.

But Nassau is willing to spend money, including borrowed funds, to make money, which is just what the cameras are doing.

That new revenue, plus additional revenue generated by Mangano's proposed tax increase, are supposed to go toward paying Nassau's bills, including the cost of new labor contracts. But lawmakers, by pulling the plug on the proposed increase, are making the usual political calculations.

The play is to leave Mangano, who likely will move to restore his proposed tax hike, holding the bag, which would inoculate lawmakers, as they seek re-election next year, from having to answer for raising taxes.

But that calculation could be wrong, too: They likely will have to answer for waiting so long to ensure that the speed camera program they approved works for, not against, residents.

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