Critics say Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman should be using the money to fund mental health and social services. NewsdayTV's Scott Eidler reports. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas; YouTube; Nassau County Executive Bruce A. Blakeman

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman wants to use $10 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for a series of events next year celebrating the county’s 125th anniversary, but Democratic lawmakers say the money would be better spent on mental health and social service programs.

In 2021, the federal government awarded Nassau County $385 million from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act. Nassau must designate it for specific purposes by Dec. 31, 2024, and spend it by the end of 2026, under U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.

The county has earmarked $186.6 million and spent $69.5 million, according to Treasury Department data through June 30. 

In a statement, Blakeman said the anniversary events could include concerts, car shows or professional golf tournaments. His request to set aside the $10 million was approved Dec. 4 by the County Legislature's Finance Committee.

"The funds approved for transfer by the legislature are merely for the purposes of setting up a segregated fund for a variety of potential and actual 125th anniversary events," Blakeman, a Republican, said. "The funds provided by the federal government set specific criteria for use which includes tourism and economic development. Both of which will be a part of the 125th celebrations."

The legislature will have to approve all spending related to the celebrations, he said.

Blakeman will put a plan together in January and solicit input from legislators, officials said.

“The plan is to get some advertising out there and have a big event, because this is a thing that promotes tourism and fits with the conformity of the [American Rescue Plan Act] funds,” Nassau budget director Andrew Persich told legislators at the Finance Committee meeting. “This is part of what we need to do to promote this county, and this is a good mechanism to do it.

“We need to get the ball rolling in order to make the plan,” he added.

The committee approved the measure 4-2, across party lines. Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) and Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) opposed it. The full legislature is expected to vote Dec. 18.

Solages asked Persich: "Social services or mental health — why not have this money put in those lines?"

Persich said the county has boosted funding for social services in next year's budget and would devote other aid to those issues.

Drucker said in an interview: "To prioritize tourism over other important needs that our residents have, such as treatment of mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, veterans, economic difficulties and challenges that our small businesses are experiencing — this is where $10 million should go to."

Nassau has allocated the largest share of its COVID aid — $30 million — on grants to help small businesses and nonprofits that suffered losses during the pandemic. It has spent $20 million on the initiative.

The county also gave one-time $375 checks to property owners who met income thresholds or demonstrated a pandemic-related hardship, distributing more than $28 million in total.

The county has allocated more than $2 million in COVID aid for a tourism campaign, according to Treasury Department records. Nassau spent $600,000 for 30-second commercials that aired over two weeks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area, as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing TV channel.

Blakeman appears at the end of the commercial in a gray pinstripe suit to declare "Nassau County, golden — coast to coast," beside the county's logo and his name: "Bruce A. Blakeman, Nassau County Executive."

The events he proposed for next year would coincide with the anniversary of Nassau's three towns breaking off from Queens, officially, on Jan. 1, 1899.

On Jan. 3, 1899, the Nassau County Board of Supervisors held its first meeting at a firehouse on Main Street in Mineola. The board members decided on a coat of arms (a lion, azure); its seal (seven billets around the lion); and a flag (orange).

In 1999, then-County Executive Thomas Gulotta oversaw a yearlong centennial celebration that featured historical re-enactments at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a three-day conference at Hofstra University and the opening of a time capsule placed in the county courthouse in 1900.

Actors recreated the scene of the first board of supervisors meeting, when the leaders of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay recessed after they couldn't agree on the appointment of the first county clerk, according to Newsday's archives.

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman wants to use $10 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for a series of events next year celebrating the county’s 125th anniversary, but Democratic lawmakers say the money would be better spent on mental health and social service programs.

In 2021, the federal government awarded Nassau County $385 million from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act. Nassau must designate it for specific purposes by Dec. 31, 2024, and spend it by the end of 2026, under U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.

The county has earmarked $186.6 million and spent $69.5 million, according to Treasury Department data through June 30. 

In a statement, Blakeman said the anniversary events could include concerts, car shows or professional golf tournaments. His request to set aside the $10 million was approved Dec. 4 by the County Legislature's Finance Committee.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman wants to use $10 million in federal coronavirus relief aid for a series of events next year celebrating the county’s 125th anniversary.
  • The county must designate the $385 million it received from the U.S. American Rescue Plan Act by Dec. 31, 2024, and spend it by the end of 2026, under U.S. Treasury Department guidelines.
  • Democratic lawmakers say the money would be better spent on mental health and social service programs.

"The funds approved for transfer by the legislature are merely for the purposes of setting up a segregated fund for a variety of potential and actual 125th anniversary events," Blakeman, a Republican, said. "The funds provided by the federal government set specific criteria for use which includes tourism and economic development. Both of which will be a part of the 125th celebrations."

The legislature will have to approve all spending related to the celebrations, he said.

Blakeman will put a plan together in January and solicit input from legislators, officials said.

“The plan is to get some advertising out there and have a big event, because this is a thing that promotes tourism and fits with the conformity of the [American Rescue Plan Act] funds,” Nassau budget director Andrew Persich told legislators at the Finance Committee meeting. “This is part of what we need to do to promote this county, and this is a good mechanism to do it.

“We need to get the ball rolling in order to make the plan,” he added.

The committee approved the measure 4-2, across party lines. Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Lawrence) and Arnold Drucker (D-Plainview) opposed it. The full legislature is expected to vote Dec. 18.

Solages asked Persich: "Social services or mental health — why not have this money put in those lines?"

Persich said the county has boosted funding for social services in next year's budget and would devote other aid to those issues.

Drucker said in an interview: "To prioritize tourism over other important needs that our residents have, such as treatment of mental health issues, substance abuse, homelessness, veterans, economic difficulties and challenges that our small businesses are experiencing — this is where $10 million should go to."

Nassau has allocated the largest share of its COVID aid — $30 million — on grants to help small businesses and nonprofits that suffered losses during the pandemic. It has spent $20 million on the initiative.

The county also gave one-time $375 checks to property owners who met income thresholds or demonstrated a pandemic-related hardship, distributing more than $28 million in total.

The county has allocated more than $2 million in COVID aid for a tourism campaign, according to Treasury Department records. Nassau spent $600,000 for 30-second commercials that aired over two weeks in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Arizona, upstate New York and the metropolitan area, as well as on Newsmax, the right-wing TV channel.

Blakeman appears at the end of the commercial in a gray pinstripe suit to declare "Nassau County, golden — coast to coast," beside the county's logo and his name: "Bruce A. Blakeman, Nassau County Executive."

The events he proposed for next year would coincide with the anniversary of Nassau's three towns breaking off from Queens, officially, on Jan. 1, 1899.

On Jan. 3, 1899, the Nassau County Board of Supervisors held its first meeting at a firehouse on Main Street in Mineola. The board members decided on a coat of arms (a lion, azure); its seal (seven billets around the lion); and a flag (orange).

In 1999, then-County Executive Thomas Gulotta oversaw a yearlong centennial celebration that featured historical re-enactments at the Old Bethpage Village Restoration, a three-day conference at Hofstra University and the opening of a time capsule placed in the county courthouse in 1900.

Actors recreated the scene of the first board of supervisors meeting, when the leaders of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay recessed after they couldn't agree on the appointment of the first county clerk, according to Newsday's archives.

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