10/29/2008New York: County Admits Cameras Are For Revenue
Suffolk County, New York report only mentions revenue as the reason to install red light cameras.
Strapped for cash, Suffolk County, New York admits it wants to install red light cameras to generate revenue. In a four-hundred-page review of the county's financial situation released earlier this month, officials mentioned only one purpose for the automated traffic enforcement devices.
"At this point the County needs to make hard decisions," the 2009 county budget review states. "Do we raise property taxes? Do we seek state approval to raise the overall sales tax rate? ... Do we raise revenue from traffic tickets by instituting red light cameras? ... These are some of the choices, none of which are attractive. Nevertheless, we must face reality and begin serious discussions on what direction to take."
The county cannot install red light cameras without first obtaining permission from the state legislature. Since 2001, it has been consistently frustrated in its attempts to convince lawmakers in Albany to grant this authority. Photo enforcement supporters believe that support from Governor David Paterson (D) will finally deliver the changes in state law needed to begin operations. The county has even begun taking steps to establish a parking violations bureau to handle the photo tickets.
"You know, we've been trying to get this legislation passed forever," Suffolk County Legislature Presiding Officer William Lindsay explained in a February meeting. "And this year it was put in the governor's suggested legislative package, so we're very hopeful that it will get passed... if we don't establish the Parking Violations Bureau, we don't get the revenue."
Another of the county's elected lawmakers, Kate Browning, at a September meeting pointed to the reason behind the governor's support.
"What this letter (from Governor Paterson) is saying is that we could gain $3.5 million in annual revenue from the red light camera program," Browning said.
For the past two years Suffolk County has actually included this amount in its official budget projections, expecting state lawmakers would concede to their request. This turned out to be a costly mistake.
"County Executive Tom Suozzi put it in his budget last year for revenue, it never came through," Deputy County Executive Ben Zwirn said at a September 18 meeting. "There's a hole in the budget because of that. He's put it in his budget again this year."
But not every Suffolk County official believes red light cameras are solely for revenue. County legislator William Lindsay has been one of photo enforcement's most vocal supporters. He insisted during a 2004 debate that the devices would be beneficial.
"What this bill is all about is not intruding on people's lives and taking pictures of people," Lindsay said. "The cameras take a picture of a license plate in a vehicle, not of a person. And what the issue here is about safety."
A copy of the Suffolk County 2009 budget review is available in a 1.4mb PDF file at the source link below.