By Hank Russell
The Suffolk County Legislature this week voted to eliminate the $30 surcharge imposed on red-light camera tickets. The measure follows a Suffolk County Supreme Court decision that had ruled the surcharge illegal. State law requires that fees levied not exceed the amount of money necessary to administratively implement the enforcement of the provisions.
That decision, which is presently on appeal, could result in tens of millions of dollars that Suffolk County would have to reimburse to those who received these tickets.
The effort has long been pursued by Republicans in the county legislature. The eleven Republicans on the body were joined in their votes to repeal by Democrat Tom Donnelly (D-Huntington Station). Donnelly’s vote gives the legislature the supermajority necessary to override an executive veto.
County Executive Steve Bellone, who first proposed the $30 surcharge and continued to be supportive over the years, has said that he will support the repeal, likely due to the fact that the legislature has the votes to override a veto.
Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga), who sponsored the resolution, stated, “I am happy it passed. This is about abiding by the law.”
As for Donnelly’s vote, Trotta said he “wasn’t surprised,” saying Donnelly is “a fairly conservative guy” who “understands the law.”
Long Island Life & Politics attempted to reach out to Donnelly, but did not hear back as of press time.
Trotta said the surcharge added to the tickets was unlawful. “The fee has to be commensurate with the services rendered. It can’t be $400 if it costs only $30 to print a license.”
The additional fees were added in 2013, when Suffolk County was on a precipice toward being labeled over the next several years by NewYork State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, as the most fiscally strapped county in New York.
“The state comptroller says that, for four years in a row, Suffolk has been dead last in fiscal stability,” Trotta said. “That’s because [of Bellone’s] fiscal gimmickry.”
Some were contemplating the establishment of a financial control board to manage Suffolk’s finances, just as was done in Nassau decades ago. Ironically, it was a mass infusion of hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government in the form of pandemic relief that helped balance Suffolk’s budget, at least for the short term.
This free federal money helps cushion the loss of the ticket revenue. However, some note that restructuring must still come about because at some point down the road, the one-shots that came from the federal government will dissipate and the structural imbalance existing in Suffolk’s budget will resurface.
“Fees are not made to be taxes,” Trotta said. “Bellone said he never raised the general fund tax. … but what if he raised [the fees] to $150? Would he get reelected? No.” He also said that Bellone is “the luckiest politician” ever because he would have been deeper in a fiscal hole “if it weren’t for the pandemic money.”
Long Island Life & Politics also reached out to Legislators Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) and (D-Wyandanch) for comment, but did not hear back from them as of press time.