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Nassau Democrats oppose Mangano’s $105 traffic fee proposal

A red-light camera sign on Old Country Road

A red-light camera sign on Old Country Road in Westbury on Aug. 18, 2011. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Nassau legislative Democrats said Tuesday they will not support County Executive Edward Mangano’s plan to add a $105 fee on traffic and parking tickets as a way to pay for police.

But Republican lawmakers, who hold a 12-6 majority, have yet to weigh in on the controversial proposal included in the 2017 budget Mangano submitted for approval last week.

Instead of a property tax hike, Mangano, a Republican, is pitching the new “public safety fee” as a way to raise $64 million next year to fund the hiring of 150 police officers and 81 police civilian employees. He said the funding is also critical to cover increased police salaries, reduce overtime and fund new anti-terror units.

The proposal, however, has drawn criticism for doubling or nearly doubling the total in fines and fees that would be due from motorists upon some violations. Red-light camera tickets would jump from $95 to $200 and many parking tickets from $110 to $215.

Many other moving violations, which now average $225, would cost more than $300.

“We can’t support it,” said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport). “It’s a backdoor tax, and an onerous one on county residents.”

Abrahams said he was particularly upset at how much red-light camera tickets would jump: “The administration has turned it from a public safety program to a money grab, no other way to explain it.”

A spokeswoman for Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) declined to comment Tuesday, as she did Monday, noting that the budget was under review. Legislators will likely hold public hearings on the budget early next month, and must vote on it, including any revisions, by Oct. 31.

Mangano said Monday he hadn’t yet conducted outreach to lawmakers over the public safety fee, and aides said Tuesday that was still the case.

“We have not received comment from the legislature,” Mangano said.

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority, the county’s financial oversight board, must also approve the 2017 budget. A spokesman for NIFA chairman Adam Barsky declined to comment on the public safety fee.

NIFA member Chris Wright said the county is banking on revenue that could greatly fluctuate based on how many, or how few, tickets are issued.

Mangano estimated that 600,000 tickets would produce the $64 million in revenue from the new public safety fee.

“It’s never a good idea to assume that uncertain revenues will materialize in sufficient amount to cover certain expenditures,” Wright said.

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