Amid outcry in Nassau, Suffolk opts against school zone cameras

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during Monday's announcement that the county will not pursue school zone cameras. (Credit: courtesy photo)
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone speaks during Monday’s announcement that the county will not pursue school zone cameras. (Credit: courtesy photo)

Are school zone speed cameras nothing more than a money grab? That’s a question Suffolk County residents won’t have to worry about.

That’s because Suffolk officials announced Monday that the controversial program, which launched in Nassau County earlier this year and has come under fire from residents there, won’t be implemented here at all. This past spring, the state authorized the use of one camera in each Nassau and Suffolk county school district. But Suffolk County officials had been debating going forward with the program since July.

The proposal wasn’t expected to affect the North Fork, where Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter and Southold Supervisor Scott Russell both said they had no intention of launching the school zone camera program.

The rest of Suffolk County did consider it and has ultimately decided against it.

“We’ve been taking a deliberative approach to the speed camera issue since we received approval from New York State to allow them on Long Island,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said Tuesday in a conference call.

The county had formed a “working group” to investigate the issue and explore how cameras have worked in other parts of the country. In July, the group even issued a Request for Expression of Interest in implementing the speed camera program in Suffolk, Mr. Bellone said. About 11 companies responded.

Based on that, and the way the program unfolded in Nassau, he said, “We decided it was better not to implement the program.”

The county executive was joined by a bipartisan group of eight county legislators in announcing that decision Monday.

“I never have based decisions solely on public sentiment, but you’d be wrong not to be taking public sentiments and views into account as part of a decision,” Mr. Bellone said when asked how much weight public opposition in Nassau County had in Suffolk’s decision.

Mr. Bellone said the county didn’t anticipate any revenue from the cameras in its 2014 budget and anticipated only $2.5 million in revenue in its 2015 budget, which totals $2.8 billion.

Revenue that exceeded expectations in other areas has already made up for that loss, he said. For example, the county has generated $5 million more than was budgeted from the sale of foreclosed properties. Nassau, on the other hand, reportedly budgeted $30 million in anticipated revenue from fines.

At the same time, Nassau residents quickly became livid about the cameras, which they believed were designed more to generate revenue than to ensure safety in school zones.

Mr. Russell said only the county has the authority to install cameras on county-owned roads. And most schools in Southold Town are located on Route 25 — a state highway.

“The only school that is on a town-owned road is Southold High School and elementary school,” he said. “I am unaware of New York State having any intention of pursuing this type of plan and Southold would have no interest in implementing it.”

Mr. Walter said he has never been in favor of school zone speed cameras.

“It was more about generating revenue and less about safety,” he said.

Nassau County has been rolling back its school zone speed camera program recently, reducing the hours from 11 per day to four. There’s also a proposal in the Nassau County Legislature to end the program entirely.

Mr. Bellone said the Suffolk legislature has instead established a School Zone Safety Commission headed by Legislator Sarah Anker to work with police and schools to enhance safety in school zones.

“For us, it’s always been about public safety,” Mr. Bellone said.

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