Suffolk seeks $778K grant repayment from Jewish center

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The Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center in Commack must repay the county $778,206 in grants for 2005 and 2006 because the group failed to turn over revenue from fees for programs that served 2,300 youngsters, according to an audit by Suffolk County Comptroller Joseph Sawicki.

Sawicki said the grant contracts specified three times that funds would be given "less revenue and other offsets," provisions requiring repayment. "We didn't create the contract language," Sawicki said. "The audit simply uncovered it."

Suffolk Y officials, in a written response, said the comptroller's claim is "without basis or merit" and would do "irreparable harm" to the center. Officials said the grants were intended to help the entire agency, not just youth programs, and there was no intent by the county to seek repayment. The contract language, they added, was "a mutual mistake."

Edward Dumas, chief deputy county executive, said the administration would ask the legislature if it wants the administration to follow up on the comptroller's recommendations. But he warned "if applied across the board it could have a very damaging effect" on many community groups that also get county aid.

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The annual contracts date back to 2003, when county lawmakers first approved $500,000 for the center. Sawicki said county net cost totals $3.5 million over eight years, even though the Suffolk Y has more than $7 million in unrestricted assets. Because of the size of the finding, Sawicki said he had "no choice" but to examine 2003 and 2004 grants as well as those in 2007 and 2008, other years the revenue provisions were part of the contract.

Suffolk Y board member Larry Katz said the contract change is an indication the county "never intended" to seek repayment, noting he knows of no other agency that has been forced to repay fee income. "We hope to resolve this with various branches of . . . county government," he said, but conceded legal action may be needed without a settlement.

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