Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy holds a copy of his...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy holds a copy of his proposed 2011 budget in Hauppauge, Thursday. (Sept. 16, 2010) Credit: James Carbone

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy delivered his proposed $2.7-billion 2011 spending plan Thursday as critics began questioning his revenue estimates for his no-property-tax-increase budget.

Levy has maintained in budget briefings that none of the revenue in his budget is speculative. But legislative critics immediately criticized his forecast that the county's network of red light cameras at 50 sites will produce $23 million in net revenue between this year and next.

"I have grave concerns that these numbers are overblown and will create a structural deficit," said Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches), who has been a watchdog on the issue since last year. "To meet the budget, everyone in Suffolk County would have to run red lights consistently to make the budget between now and Jan. 1."

Gail Vizzini, director of the legislature's office of budget review, said the proposed revenue estimates for the cameras "looks high," but said she would withhold judgment until her staff can review the proposed budget.

Levy spokesman Dan Aug said, "We're confident that just like last year, we are right and the legislators who question our projections will be wrong."

Levy had originally budgeted $6 million in net revenue in 2010 for red light cameras, but lowered that early this year to $4 million when the cameras weren't up and running by April as projected. The first cameras did not go in until June 15 and Levy's proposed 2011 budget now projects that the county will generate $3 million this year in fines and $20 million next year.

As of yesterday, public works officials said 10 cameras have been installed and $100,000 in revenue has come in. Levy aides say that 45 of the cameras should be installed by the second week of November and all 50 camera sites will be done by February.

"It just breaks my heart," said presiding officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook). "Nassau got their authorization the same time we did and they were up and running in six weeks while it's taken us a year and a half." Nassau estimates making $17 million this year and $27 million next.

Levy in his budget maintains that the red light cameras - based on Nassau's experience - will generate 600,000 traffic tickets next year each with a $50 fine. The county will net $23 million after vendors fees are paid for operating the system. He is also calling for creation of a $458,000 red light camera unit in the county attorney's officeLindsay said any revenue estimates were faulty because there is "no will" in the legislature to sell the license, the building or lay off staff. He also questioned whether including revenue from a sale of the license or the building violates county law that bars budgeting for a sale without legislature approval.

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