A proposal to consolidate the Town of Babylon's drug and alcohol counseling program in a town-owned building near ballfields and schools in North Babylon was condemned by parents at a town board meeting, who said the move would endanger children.
But officials and others at the Monday meeting, including some who said the counseling had saved their lives, said those concerns were overblown.
Drug and alcohol counseling has been going on at the Town Hall Annex for 26 years, with about 45 clients showing up in evenings for what town officials described as talk therapy. Under the proposal, clients who now receive counseling at a rented building in Amityville would come to the annex when the town's lease in Amityville expires July 1, adding about 15 clients a night to the annex total, officials said.
The town will likely decide on the consolidation in the next two weeks, town Supervisor Rich Schaffer said.
Phelps Lane Memorial Park, William E. Deluca Jr. Elementary School and Robert Moses Middle School are near the annex.
"What would you do if someone came up to children and tried to introduce them to drugs or drinking, or if a child stepped on" paraphernalia, said Risa Hartmann of North Babylon.
Town officials said that the program has never had a public safety incident at the annex or its vicinity. Many of the program's 201 clients are receiving court-ordered counseling after being arrested on charges like driving while intoxicated. In town surveys, 50 percent of clients said they were primarily addicted to alcohol; 30 percent, marijuana; 10 percent, heroin; 6 percent, prescription drugs; and 4 percent, cocaine.
"The town is committed to this program and to providing easily accessible assistance to those in need," Schaffer said. "I haven't seen any evidence that there have been any issues with the program."
The program receives about $900,000 annually from Suffolk County, insurance, Medicaid and client co-pays. It employs 12 counselors, a doctor and a nurse. It does not dispense methadone or other opioid addiction treatments, Schaffer said.
Some who attended Monday's meeting were angry that they had only recently learned of the counseling program's existence, although it is listed on a directory at the annex and on the town website.
Art Flescher, mental hygiene director of Suffolk County's Department of Health Services, said some resident fears were misplaced.
"The reality is, kids do not begin to use drugs because they're approached by a stranger lurking in a schoolyard: It is friends, it is family," who make the introduction, he said.