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Nassau speed cameras generate 400,000 tickets, report says

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. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's much-criticized school-zone speed camera program generated 400,308 tickets from Sept. 2 through Nov. 21, bringing in a potential $32 million in fines and fees, the county legislature's independent office of budget review reported Thursday.

It said the county would net $24.4 million if all violations were paid, after its Arizona-based vendor, American Traffic Solutions, gets $7.6 million -- its share of the tickets issued.

Budget review director Maurice Chalmers noted in his 10-page report that 96.4 percent of violators chose not to fight the tickets, which consist of a $50 fine and $30 administrative fee. So far, motorists have paid $18.3 million.

The school districts with the most violations were Long Beach, where 39,013 tickets were issued, primarily along Lido Boulevard; Hicksville; Valley Stream 24; Lynbrook and Syosset.

Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) initially said she was "comfortable" with the program, which catches speeders in school zones on camera.

But she acknowledged Thursday the "rollout was not good. It reinforced the perception and belief that this was just intended as a moneymaker."

Democratic Legis. Judy Jacobs of Woodbury and Carrié Solages of Elmont, whose districts were among those with the highest numbers of tickets, had complained from the start that motorists were not given adequate warning of the cameras.

"It became a program of distrust," said Jacobs, who said that motorists in her district received 85,695 tickets.

Solages, whose district includes Valley Stream, said, "I voted for it with the intention of protecting our schools. It was not rolled out the way we asked that it be rolled out."

In response to residents' outrage, the county legislature is expected on Monday to repeal the program, which it had approved unanimously in June. After fielding hundreds of complaints, Democratic legislators earlier this month called for the cameras to be shut down.

The Republican majority last week filed a bill to terminate the cameras after party leaders warned lawmakers and County Executive Edward Mangano, a Republican, that voters would take their anger out at the polls next November, when all 19 legislators are up for election.

In response to Chalmers' report, American Traffic Solutions issued its own analysis of the program, which indicated the number of violations had decreased dramatically since cameras officially were turned on in September after a flawed start in July and August. The firm also reported the average speed in school zones dropped 12 percent.

Deputy County Executive Ed Ward said those statistics showed the program "was working. Speeding went down. It had its desired effect for the time it was running."

The county had estimated the cameras would bring in $30 million next year. Repealing the program will create a hole in next year's budget.

Mangano was expected to meet with county legislative leaders on Friday to discuss possible options for filling the gap.

Chalmers' report said his office could not verify county claims that it used accident data to help select camera locations. Instead, he said, selection of zones was based on areas where high volumes of speeding cars were observed.

"Past accident history was not the determining factor, volume and prevention were," Chalmers wrote. "The program may have been better received had statistics and studies aligned better with site selections."

A Newsday analysis earlier this week of a state accident database found that 57 of the 76 school zones saw no speed-related accidents between 2009 and 2013 during daytime weekday hours when school is typically in session.

Newsday Thursday compared the accident data with the ticket data in the Office of Legislative Budget Review report and found at least 250,570 of the 400,308 tickets were issued in the school zones with no history of speed-related accidents. Seven of the top-ticketed districts had no speed-related accidents.

Legislative transcripts show that county lawmakers, in considering whether to approve the cameras, depended on county officials' testimony that a study of selected school zones found more than 200 speed violations per hour.

That study was conducted by American Traffic Solutions, which was expected to get the speed camera contract.

In defending the program, several Mangano administration officials pointed to the death of a seventh-grader hit by a car in Valley Stream Thursday, but the crash did not occur in a school zone.

With Matt Clark

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