Speed cameras on Maple Avenue near St. Brigid / Our...

Speed cameras on Maple Avenue near St. Brigid / Our Lady of Hope Regional School in Westbury, Nov. 3, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Nassau legislative Democrats Monday called on the county to halt its controversial school-zone speed camera program, calling it a "debacle" aimed more at making money than improving safety.

The lawmakers held a news conference to urge Republican County Executive Edward Mangano to end or suspend the 4-month-old program until prominent warning signs are installed at sites. The issue has become a political flashpoint, with irate residents complaining that insufficient warnings have led many to receive 10 or more $80 tickets days apart.

"This was never supposed to be a 'gotcha' program," said Legis. Judith Jacobs (D-Woodbury). "The idea was fairness for drivers and safety for adults and children coming in and out of the schools all day long."

The Democrats spoke on the eve of Election Day -- prompting some Democratic State Senate candidates to piggyback off the event and the Mangano administration to label it a stunt.

Jacobs and the rest of the minority caucus acknowledged they'd voted to start the speed camera program in June, when it was approved unanimously.

But they said they did so on the understanding that prominent signage, with blinking lights, would be placed at each school where cameras operate.

Mangano's office proposed borrowing $6.5 million in September to install such signage at every public and private school in Nassau -- not just the 56 sites initially authorized for cameras. The measure failed when the GOP majority did not secure the Democratic votes needed for any bonding.

Democrats say the county should instead pay for the warning signs with operating funds or short-term borrowing tied to expected ticket revenue.

The funding dispute intensified last week when Democrats learned Republican lawmakers wanted to use community revitalization program funds allocated to their districts to pay for signage. That would give individual legislators discretion over signs in their districts.

"The Democrats unanimously approved the speed camera program but have refused to provide the funding for, and have delayed, the installation of additional flashing lights," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow).

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) countered that "there has not been true leadership shown on this. This has been a debacle since day one and there's no reason why we should continue to hurt the motorists and pedestrians of Nassau County if we don't have their best interests in mind."

The Mangano administration, which says camera revenue could total $30 million a year, noted the Democrats' resistance to the borrowing as it criticized their event.

"This press conference is simply an election stunt," Traffic and Parking Violations Agency executive director John Marks said in a statement.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said the timing had nothing to do with the election, but instead stemmed from the appearance recently of 400 angry residents at a forum they hosted in Jericho.

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