Suffolk lawmakers on Tuesday voted to repeal a $30 administrative fee tacked onto the $50 fine paid by those guilty of red-light camera violations in a victory for Republicans who have long criticized the camera program.
The bill passed with a veto-proof 12-6 majority, with all Republican legislators as well as Democratic Legis. Tom Donnelly of Deer Park voting in favor.
Marykate Guilfoyle, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said Bellone will sign the bill into law.
Issuance of red-light camera tickets and collection of fees has not been impacted by the Sept. 8 cyberattack on county government, Guilfoyle said.
WHAT TO KNOW
- The Suffolk County Legislature voted Tuesday to repeal a $30 administrative fee tacked onto the $50 fine paid by motorists guilty of red-light camera violations.
- Republican lawmakers say the program puts an unfair financial burden on county residents and increases accidents at some intersections.
- Democrats warned the repeal could signal the county's acknowledgment it was wrong to levy the fee, endangering Suffolk's appeal of a ruling that the administrative charge was unconstitutional.
Republicans have long tried to rein in the red-light camera program, instituted in 2010 with the $30 administrative fee added in 2013.
GOP lawmakers say the program puts an unfair financial burden on county residents and increases accidents at some locations.
Democrats warned the legislation could signal the county's acknowledgment it was wrong to levy the fee in the first place, endangering Suffolk's appeal of a court ruling that found the fee unconstitutional.
Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), legislative presiding officer, had vowed to take a hard look at the camera program — which was estimated to raise $21 million in revenue for 2023, including the administrative fee — when Republicans gained control of the legislature this year.
“The Democrats didn't want to raise the citizens of Suffolk County's taxes,” Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), the bill’s sponsor, said at a news conference after the vote. “So what did they do? They hit you with fees.”
Guilfoyle called the fees preferable to a tax hike.
"The administration has always fundamentally disagreed with Trotta’s preference to impose massive tax increases on Suffolk residents rather than responsible spending cuts and fees on traffic violations," she said.
Trotta and other Republicans also noted a 2020 state Supreme Court ruling that the fee was unconstitutional because the state precludes the county from charging more than the violation fine to offenders.
Suffolk has appealed the ruling by Justice David T. Reilly.
Attorney David Raimondo, who represents plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, welcomed passage of the legislation and said the county should move to settle the suit.
“I think justice is being served here, finally, for the taxpayers of Suffolk who deserve to have their money returned,” Raimondo told Newsday.
Democratic lawmakers who spoke at the legislative meeting Tuesday argued that because the court case is unresolved, repeal of the fee could signal acknowledgment by Suffolk that it was wrong to levy it.
That could increase a potential payout in the lawsuit, Democrats said.
“We need to be careful as we move forward with this because we've got hundreds of millions of dollars at stake with this lawsuit,” said Legis. Sarah Anker (D-Mt. Sinai).
Democrats also cited a county law requiring all legislation that impacts revenues to offset the financial loss.
The fee repeal is expected to reduce revenues by $7.1 million, according to the legislature’s Budget Review Office.
“It doesn't specifically say where this money is coming from,” Legis. Bridget Fleming (D-Noyac) said. “This is an improper resolution.”
Trotta said the legislature could make up lost revenues by fully enforcing the county’s hotel-motel tax.
McCaffrey said the county legislature would "do the proper budget amendment in February" — the next time the legislature can legally amend the budget — to address any shortfall.
McCaffrey said the legislature would seek next to remove cameras at intersections where vehicle accidents have increased since the program started.
A 2019 report from L.K. McLean Associates commissioned by the county found accidents at red-light camera intersections jumped by 60% between the 2007-2009 time period and 2015-2017.
However, fatal crashes and those involving injuries decreased by nearly 11% between the periods, said the report by L.K. McLean, which has offices in Brookhaven and Hicksville.