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Nassau to curtail speed camera hours beginning Monday

Speed cameras in front of the Dutch Broadway

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

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano is drastically cutting the hours that the county's controversial school speed cameras will operate, as new data showed the program brought in at least $16.6 million in only its first three months.

Since cameras were turned on Sept. 2, Nassau has received $10.7 million in revenue from the $50 fines, according to county data obtained by Newsday. American Traffic Solutions, the Arizona-based firm that manages the program, gets 38 percent of that -- or at least $4 million.

Motorists also have paid $5.9 million in the $30 administrative fees, with the county keeping that entire amount.

Motorists are issued tickets for driving more than 10 mph over the school zone speed limits. At $80 apiece, the total revenues reflect about 208,000 violations. Mangano's office did not disclose how many tickets are still unpaid, and how the figures break down monthly.

The administration announced the cutback in hours Wednesday, saying there had been a 70 percent decline in violations issued between September and November as more motorists became aware of the cameras.

Beginning Monday, cameras that have been 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. -- the hours most children are entering and exiting schools.

Motorists had complained that few children were crossing the streets near school zones, especially in the evening after buildings had emptied, at the 56 sites authorized under state law for the new speed cameras.

At an unrelated news conference in Westbury, Mangano, a Republican, said he decided to reduce camera hours "because of resident concern, but primarily because we have seen a dramatic change in driving habits within the school districts."

The announcement prompted the first critical comments from the county legislature's GOP majority about Mangano's handling of the cameras.

"The Republican caucus is very unhappy with the speed camera program," Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said in a statement.

Mangano's announcement, Gonsalves continued, "does not appear to go far enough to address the problems with a program that, while well-intentioned and passed unanimously by all Democrats and all Republicans, was poorly implemented. It is clearly time to reassess the entire program."

Democrats responded by filing a bill to immediately repeal the program. "The administration's recent revision is a small Band-Aid on a large sore in our county," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

The county expects to generate $30 million in annual revenue from the cameras, which have stirred anger among residents who complain about the lack of prominent and uniform warning signs at many sites.

Those residents -- who have held protests and formed online groups against the cameras -- reject that the program is aimed at safety rather than generating revenue to plug a potential $70 million budget hole.

"It's not surprising they've made this much money," said Ned Newhouse, 55, of Woodbury, who organized residents against the cameras. "If this was all about safety, the county would stop the program now until better signs are put up."

The county will spend $2 million for speed-limit warning signs with flashing lights at all camera sites, but installation is expected to take months.

Lawmakers are also awaiting their first detailed data on the cameras. The independent Office of Legislative Budget Review has said it will provide further details, including program revenue, in a report expected before the end of 2014.

Jostyn Hernandez, a spokesman for Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, confirmed that his office would begin a speed camera program audit early next year "once more data is available." Mangano's office did not say how much revenue they expect to lose with the change in hours.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county's state financial control board, was not consulted about the curtailment, although chairman Jon Kaiman said he didn't expect to be.

"We just make sure they bring in the money they say they will to cover the obligations they have," he said. "How they do it is up to them."

With Tania Lopez

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