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Spencer won’t back $55 traffic fee increase in Suffolk

Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer speaks during a

Suffolk County Legislator William Spencer speaks during a meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature in Smithtown Tuesday, July 25, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

A day after saying he’d support doubling a $55 fee on traffic tickets, Legis. William Spencer now says he’s a firm “no,” endangering the plan to raise revenue for the cash-strapped Suffolk County government.

“Let me be clear, I will not be voting to double the fee for traffic violations,” the Centerport Democrat posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon.

In an interview Wednesday, he acknowledged “hearing from constituents” after a Newsday article identified him as the crucial 10th vote to pass the Legislature, which had failed earlier this year without his support.

Spencer on Tuesday said he had committed to vote for the fee hike after he opposed a pay freeze for political appointees and prosecutors last month.

But Spencer said that even before any blowback occurred, he had already started thinking that the fee increase might not be necessary because sales tax collections have been better than projected.

“I don’t support it, I won’t vote for it,” he said in an interview. “I think we can manage the budget without any further fee increases.”

The fee increase on traffic and parking tickets would raise $5.5 million a year and $1.7 million this year if it passes in September. The county faces a $160 million deficit when borrowing and other one-time budget maneuvers are not counted. A Wall Street ratings agency downgraded the county’s bond rating last month.

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory said that even without Spencer’s support, he still expected the bill to be up for debate when the Legislature next meets in September.

“I know people are upset about it. But the message remains the same. We’re in a deficit. None of us like to do these things,” he said. He noted the fee increase was in the budget approved by the Legislature.

Gregory added that he still has reservations about the fee hike, because the Suffolk traffic court doesn’t offer payment plans for tickets, which can be hundreds of dollars each.

Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, declined comment.

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