More than 400 furious Nassau residents packed Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho Thursday night to confront the architect of Nassau County's controversial speed camera program and demand refunds for hundreds of tickets issued in front of the school.
The meeting, hosted by local residents, featured fiery exchanges between Nassau Traffic and Parking Violations Agency executive director John Marks and area homeowners, most of whom have received multiple tickets and want the camera removed.
They have complained about insufficient signage in the area. For example, a sign in front of the school lists the speed limit at 30 mph but the school-zone speed limit, painted on the pavement nearby, is listed at 25 mph. Motorists driving more than 10 mph over the school-zone speed limit will get an $80 ticket.
In addition, a sign alerting motorists to the cameras is located more than a block from the school and is not visible to homeowners turning out of the largest residential development in the neighborhood.
While Marks said the cameras are designed to improve safety, area homeowner Gary Strauss said the Cantiague school zone is "historically safe," with no known pedestrian injuries or fatalities.
Marks defended the program and said signage in the area "was not inconsistent." He cited statistics showing that 14 pedestrians were killed countywide in 2012 within a quarter-mile of a school.
As Marks spoke, he was repeatedly heckled by homeowners who screamed out occasional obscenities and shouted "it's all about the money."
Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who co-sponsored the speed camera bill, told the crowd the program should be shut down immediately until proper signage is erected. The county expects to generate up to $30 million in revenue annually from the cameras.
Marks said cameras will be rotated in the Jericho school district and it's possible the fixed camera at Cantiague Elementary could be shut off at times.
Steve Kantorowitz of Jericho said the cameras "are destroying the quality of life in Nassau County and makes it difficult to enjoy the experience of living on Long Island."
Ernest Rauch of Syosset said the program has nothing to do with safety. "It's all about money, money and more money," he said.
Looking visibly frustrated, Marks said he was following the statute set in the law and that the program was having tangible results in causing motorists to slow down.
"Everyone gets complacent," Marks said. "You drive down a road for so long that you don't realize you are speeding."
Lawmakers at the meeting discussed last week's announcement by Nassau's 11-member Republican majority that they would use funds from their "community revitalization programs" to pay for flashing yellow warning lights at all school-zone speed camera locations in their districts.
CRP funds are allocated to each county legislator and are typically used for small capital projects that benefit a lawmaker's district. The funds are repaid with interest by county taxpayers. Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said the move was necessary because minority Democrats "refused to support" County Executive Edward Mangano's request for $6.5 million for warning lights at all 434 public and private county schools.
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the immediate need was for flashing lights only at speed camera sites. Abrahams said he would direct his caucus to use some CRP funds for the lights because "we will not hang half of the county out to dry."
Meanwhile, Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury) suggested in a letter to Mangano Thursday that the county use short-term borrowing to fund the lights and pay it off with speed camera revenue.
The warning signs would notify motorists they are entering a school zone with a speed camera. The lights blink only when school is in session. The county has selected 77 possible locations for fixed and mobile speed cameras, although only 56 sites -- one in each school district -- can operate at a time.
It was not clear how much the warning lights would cost. Republicans have roughly $2.4 million in CRP funds available while Democrats have about $1.6 million, Abrahams said.