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GOP lawmakers mull repeal of speed cameras in Nassau

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway School in Elmont on Aug. 31, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Nassau legislative Republicans disclosed Thursday that they're considering a repeal of the county's school speed camera program, but rebuffed calls for an immediate shutdown.

Minority Democrats on Wednesday introduced legislation to repeal the program, and Thursday asked the GOP majority to jointly pass the bill at the next legislative meeting Dec. 15.

But Republicans said they must first consider how to replace millions of dollars in revenue projected from the program. "My staff has been looking into the possibility of a repeal for weeks, and instead of rushing, we need to meaningfully consider the safety and fiscal impact of a repeal," Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said there's no reason for delay. "We should join together as a legislative body and give the residents of Nassau the holiday gift they truly deserve and would appreciate: an immediate termination of the speed camera program," he wrote Thursday to Gonsalves.

The county, already facing a projected $70 million budget deficit from plummeting sales tax receipts, could see that gap grow without the cameras.

County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, projects the program will raise $30 million annually. In just its first three months, Nassau will net $12.5 million from the cameras, after paying American Traffic Solutions, its Arizona-based contractor. The contract runs until December 2022.

If the county ends the contract early, ATS gets $60,000 per camera site, minus $2,500 for each month the cameras have been operating. Cameras went online in September, and if the county were to install its full complement of 56 cameras, the termination fee would amount to $2.94 million.

Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said violations decreased by 70 percent between September and November as motorists slowed down, but didn't provide specific figures.

"This program has increased student safety and potentially saved lives," Nevin said. "The legislature allocated millions of dollars just recently for installation of flashing lights and should continue this public policy, which protects children."

Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), who backed state legislation authorizing cameras for Nassau and Suffolk, said State Senate Republicans haven't discussed a repeal. But Hannon said he supports a program suspension until the county "can put the program back together again," including installing flashing lights at all camera sites.

The legislative machinations came a day after Mangano announced he was curtailing the hours the cameras can operate. Beginning Monday, cameras operating on school days between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. will run only from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mangano said he acted partly on residents' concerns and because of a "dramatic change in driving habits" near schools.

But Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of the Tri State Transportation Campaign, a transportation group that supports the cameras, said Mangano's decision "sanctions the illegal and dangerous behavior of a few drivers at the expense of the safety and quality of life for Nassau County residents, workers, visitors and students."

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