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Suffolk gives nod to more red-light cameras

Traffic moves past the sign for the red-light

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

Suffolk lawmakers have given final approval to doubling county red-light cameras, but where they'll go -- and when they'll begin bringing in fines -- remains uncertain.

The legislature Tuesday night, by a unanimous vote, increased intersections where "traffic control monitoring systems" may be installed from 50 to 100. State lawmakers had authorized Suffolk's request, and a similar one from Nassau County, in March.

While Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has said cameras improve safety, he acknowledged they will also help cut a $530-million deficit projection. Budget analysts expect about $6 million in revenue, depending on terms of a vendor contract.

"That means services we can continue to provide or dozens of Suffolk County employees we can keep on the payroll," said Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider.

But new cameras may not be operational until 2013. Schneider said the county is assessing locations as it seeks a more favorable split of fines they generate.

Under a contract for Suffolk's first 50 cameras, revenue is evenly split with Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., in exchange for the firm installing and maintaining the systems, and handling some clerical work, Schneider said.

"There's no way we'd extend an additional 50 intersections under existing contract terms," he said. "We want more."Another issue is how the new intersections will be engineered. Several residents have lobbied for uniformity among yellow-light durations at camera locations, saying some of them provide less time to stop than the state recommends.

"We need proper traffic engineering, not more cameras," Patrick Gallagher, of South Setauket, told lawmakers. Public works officials promise to study each intersection where it places a new camera to ensure that yellow-light times (which range from 3 to 6 seconds) are appropriate based on road grades, vehicle speeds and deceleration times.

Also Tuesday, lawmakers:

Restored 13 health department jobs that would have been among 315 upcoming layoffs. The positions, including hydrogeologists, public health sanitarians and a well driller, will be moved into Suffolk's Water Quality Protection Fund, supported by a quarter-cent sales tax.

The action, first suggested by Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) and supported by Bellone, also moves six jobs not slated for layoff into the fund, saving the general fund an additional $1 million through 2013.

Authorized a retirement incentive for the county's eligible nonunion and appointed employees that is similar to one given to police unions and the Association of Municipal Employees. The deal allows the workers to retire with the guarantee they will not have to pay into their health care costs, should the concession be negotiated. Bellone is seeking the contributions as a way to help close the county's budget gap and avoid more layoffs in 2013.Tabled a resolution to set hearings for a potential fare hike, from $3 to $4, for Suffolk's minibus service for the disabled, which carries 438,000 riders a year. Bellone included the increase in his initial deficit reduction plan, but concerns were raised over hurting an already vulnerable population.

"To raise this fare is unconscionable," said Garrett Hulett of the Suffolk Independent Living Organization.

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