Goodbye, School Zone Speed Cameras


Source: Paul Larocco & Laura Figueroa, Newsday

The Nassau County Legislature last night repealed the county’s controversial speed camera program, as it resisted a late push by the camera vendor to merely suspend it.

County Executive Edward Mangano said last night he will sign the repeal bill and cameras will be off effective Tuesday. Tickets already issued must be paid.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to end the program after nearly four hours of public comment. They first had authorized the cameras by the same 19-0 margin in early June.

The about-face on a program heralded as a safety measure — but counted on to raise about $30 million annually to help balance the county’s budget — came after lawmakers were besieged by constituent complaints almost everywhere they went, including parades, churches and delis. The repeal leaves a sizable budget hole next year.

“At no point in my career have I seen opposition to the continuation of a program as I have with this one,” Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) said last night.

“It’s not surprising,” Mangano said of the repeal in an interview. “It’s an election year.”

Minority Democrats were the first to turn against the program this fall, and Republicans in the legislative majority followed this month. Republican Party leaders had warned them that continuing to support the cameras could harm their re-election campaigns next fall.

“School safety was never the issue,” said Pat Friedman of Garden City South, a longtime civic activist. “The $30 million shortfall was, and is, the problem.”

From Sept. 2 through Nov. 21, the program generated 400,308 tickets for a potential $32 million in $50 fines and $30 fees, according to the legislature’s independent office of budget review. Nassau is expected to net $24.4 million this year after its Arizona-based vendor, American Traffic Solutions, gets $7.6 million.

ATS had pressed unsuccessfully for suspension of the program, rather than outright repeal. Mangano last week had written lawmakers with suggested ways to plug the budget hole, which he called “painful.”

At Mangano’s urging, the legislature Monday drafted an amendment to plug the hole of about $30 million next year.

The measures, which lawmakers may consider next month, include electronic billboards along the Long Island Expressway, for about $6 million in new revenues; ending a $13 million subsidy to Nassau University Medical Center; increasing a 911 surcharge to landline users from 35 cents to $1, for $8 million; and getting state approval for reimbursement of Nassau police costs to patrol the Long Island Expressway, for about $6 million.

With the repeal, Nassau owes a multimillion-dollar contract termination payment to ATS, which officials are still calculating. Mangano said it could be at least $2.6 million. ATS also could sue to recoup installation and maintenance costs.

“While we’re disappointed in the vote and the potential safety impacts of ending the program, we respect the legislature’s decision and will work the county on the wind down of the program under the terms of the contract,” ATS spokesman Charles Territo said.

The program’s rollout faced criticism from the start.

Mangano dismissed thousands of tickets issued over the summer, citing equipment issues. After the relaunch in September, motorists complained that sites with cameras had few pedestrians and had insufficient signage warning them of the reduced speed limits.

A Newsday analysis of traffic data showed that cameras are in dozens of areas with no history of speed-related crashes. Nassau had planned to launch either fixed or mobile cameras at 56 sites — one per school district — by the end of this year.

Allison Blanchette, a Long Beach pedestrian and public transportation advocate, argued against repeal, saying neither the “embarrassing” rollout nor political concerns should outweigh the fact that cameras have made drivers slow down.

“The right to be able to walk down the street matters more than anyone’s job,” she said.

Gonsalves said lawmakers still want to spend $2 million to place speed limit warning signs with flashing lights at the sites where cameras were to be, as an added safety measure. She also has requested extra police at those sites to catch speeders.

“The lesson is — you do your homework before you do anything,” Gonsalves said.

Paul Larocco, Laura Figueroa, Newsday


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