Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) put the county’s red light camera program back under the microscope this week, as he should. We appreciate his watchdog approach when it comes to the county’s finances — he went so far as to call the red light camera program, which photographs and tickets cars that run through red lights or don’t come to a full stop before turning right on red, “taxation by citation.”
This newspaper has been historically critical of the program, and when the county released its 2014 annual report on the matter, it reminded us why.
In 2014 alone, the county collected $27.5 million from about 321,000 citations issued. Most of that was profit — Suffolk paid the camera vendor only $9.5 million to operate the program. And the county’s net revenue that year represented an exponential increase from when the cameras went live in 2010.
We are not ignoring the statistics, though. We recognize that overall crashes decreased by 3 percent, right-angle crashes went down by 21 percent and crashes involving injury decreased 4 percent. Rear-end crashes, however, went up 42 percent.
But Suffolk County has gotten into a dangerous habit. While some lawmakers and residents remain critical of the cameras, our government now has several years of ever-increasing citation dollars going to the county’s general fund. If we were to nix the red light camera program, it would leave a gaping hole in the county’s pocketbook. Rather than cutting equal expenses, we all know where our government would turn to make up the difference: taxpayers’ wallets.
At this point, the best solution would be to go back in time and never allow the program to pass in the first place. Instead, we urge our lawmakers and neighbors to continue to be critical of the red light camera program and keep it honest as it evolves across our county. If there’s no way to dismantle it without passing the buck onto taxpayers, we hope together we can at least find a happier medium.