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Long IslandNassau

Lawmakers: about-face on Nassau cameras came after relentless complaints

Cars drive past the speed camera set up

Cars drive past the speed camera set up in front of Dutch Broadway School on Dutch Broadway on Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014 in Elmont. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau lawmakers say that their about-face on school zone speed cameras, which will culminate in a vote Monday to repeal the program, came after relentless pressure from constituents at churches and delis and in phone calls to their homes.

The county legislature's Republican majority Tuesday outlined how it came to realize that the cameras had to go -- barely six months after its members, joined by the Democratic minority, unanimously approved the technology.

"Everywhere we went, it was the one subject people were bringing up -- the way the program was being implemented and some of the unfair elements of it," said Legis. Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park).

Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown) said he recently heard from a friend who lamented that her grandson, an Eagle Scout, had gotten three tickets.

"She wouldn't let me put a word in edgewise, then she just hung up," Dunne said. "I said, 'Wow, they're mad out there. We better stop and listen.' "

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone echoed the sentiment Monday in announcing he was killing the county's speed camera program before it began. He cited "issues" with the rollout in Nassau and elsewhere in the nation: "To be sustainable over time, a program needs public support."

Nassau's repeal could create a $30 million hole in next year's budget and trigger termination payments to its camera vendor, American Traffic Solutions. County Executive Edward Mangano has directed staff to determine the amount owed to ATS.

Mangano wouldn't say Tuesday whether he'd veto a repeal, how he would fill the budget gap or if he'd give refunds to motorists who've paid the $80 tickets issued by cameras. As of the end of November, the county had netted at least $12.5 million from the program.

"Speeding in school zones puts students' lives in jeopardy," said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin. He noted that tickets issued had dropped 70 percent between September and November as motorists learned of the cameras' presence.

Democrats had turned against the program weeks before Republicans, citing a lack of school zone warning signs. "Something we could have pointed to with pride in saving lives was becoming something of anger," said Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury).

Lawmakers last month pledged to spend $2 million for warning signs with flashing lights at each of the 56 sites authorized for cameras. It did not temper the anger of residents.

"Their voices have been heard," said Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow), who noted that the installation of the new warning lights will still move forward to improve school safety.

Gonsalves said the final straw for her came when Mangano last week suddenly reduced camera hours from 11 hours per school day to only four. She said it showed a lack of confidence in the program.

"It sends the wrong message to the public," Gonsalves said, adding that she has asked Nassau police to increase monitoring of school zones to ensure that speeding does not resume.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats have put forward plans to fill the budget hole.

Gonsalves said she told Mangano, "that's your job." Jacobs said her caucus "hasn't really even discussed that yet."

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the county financial control board, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said officials must come up with real proposals to find $30 million: "Come up with new funds or cut expenditures. Something has to give."

With David M. Schwartz

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