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Suffolk red-light camera revenue jumps nearly 80 percent in 2013

The intersection of Moriches Road and Lake Avenue

The intersection of Moriches Road and Lake Avenue in St. James is one of the 50 intersections that Suffolk Country has proposed to install red-light cameras based on accident data collected by the county. (Feb. 26, 2013) Credit: Heather Walsh

Revenue from Suffolk County's red-light camera program jumped nearly 80 percent in 2013 to more than $17 million, as the county added new intersections to the program and a $30 fee to tickets, according to a county report.

The number of accidents at the 100 intersections with cameras declined an average of 5.4 percent, compared with the 12 months before the cameras were installed, according to the report by the Suffolk County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency.

Accidents involving injuries dropped 10.6 percent, while side-impact accidents fell 30 percent.

However, rear-end collisions rose 9.3 percent as drivers braked to avoid tickets, officials said. In 2012, such collisions jumped nearly 20 percent.

"It's better that there be a fender bender in the rear than an accident in the middle of the intersection -- those are the accidents that went down," said Paul Margiotta, executive director of Suffolk's traffic and parking agency, which runs the Red Light Safety Program.

Suffolk inaugurated the program in July 2010, after the State Legislature authorized 50 intersections each in Suffolk and Nassau counties to have cameras. In 2012, the counties were allowed to expand to 100 intersections each.

Suffolk County officials say the cameras are intended primarily to improve safety, but also say the revenue is needed to balance the budget.

Last year, Suffolk installed 115 new cameras and removed 35 from areas where tickets had decreased. Margiotta said removals were a sign that cameras were boosting safety, as more drivers stopped at red lights.

But some county lawmakers criticize the program as a revenue grab. Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) called it "taxation by citation. It's clearly about the revenue."

Suffolk issued 293,425 tickets in 2013, at $80 each in fines and fees, for revenue of $17.4 million, according to the report.

In 2012, the county issued 208,648 tickets at $50 apiece, raising $9.67 million. Revenue that year dropped 24 percent compared with 2011 as motorists became more aware of cameras at dozens of intersections, officials said.

The state requires Suffolk and Nassau to file reports on the performance of their red-light camera programs every June. Suffolk County has attributed its late filing to delays in getting traffic accident data from the state.

Nassau plans to file its report for 2013 by the end of the month, county spokesman Brian Nevin said. Chris Mistron, Nassau's coordinator of traffic safety, said "state DMV data is lagging" and isn't yet available for the county.

Suffolk paid Xerox State and Local Solutions, the Maryland-based vendor that operates the program, $5.2 million last year, slightly less than in 2012.

Under the original contract, Xerox collected about 58 percent of the ticket revenue. The county in November 2012 renegotiated the contract so Suffolk receives 58 percent of the ticket revenue, plus the administrative fees.

Xerox referred questions last week to Suffolk County.

Suffolk also is in the process of selecting a vendor for new speed cameras expected to be installed in up to 69 school zones next year. Nassau began its program this summer and expects to have speed cameras installed in 56 school zones by the end of the year.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano had to dismiss $2.4 million in tickets in August after residents complained about malfunctioning cameras and poor notification at camera sites. Some residents have called for the program to be ended altogether.

With Robert Brodsky

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