In a game of high-stakes chicken, Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano told 58 youth and mental health agencies Tuesday that he will cancel their contracts within 30 days unless Democrats agree to let the legislature borrow tens of millions of dollars for tax refunds.
The county legislature is set to vote June 18 on whether to approve $41 million in property tax refunds, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said. Democrats last month refused to provide the three votes needed for the borrowing plan that would pay for the refunds.
If that trend continues, Mangano plans to cut $7.8 million in county funding dedicated to 43 youth programs, and 15 mental health and substance abuse agencies, effective July 5. These programs also receive $2.8 million in state funds that would be cut, officials said.
"The county is now forced to close programs and cut spending in order to pay these judgments," Mangano wrote in a letter to the agencies.
In a separate letter, county department heads informed the agencies that their contracts will be terminated in 30 days due to Democrat "inaction."
Revenue from red-light camera tickets has been earmarked for youth and social service programs since 2009. Last month, the GOP-run county legislature passed a bill redirecting those funds to the county's general fund.
But Tedd Levy, executive director of Freeport Pride, a nonprofit organization that receives nearly $350,000 to assist youths with substance-abuse problems, contends there is $13 million available in the red-light camera fund from 2011 and 2012 -- enough to support programs through the end of the year and beyond.
Nevin declined to comment about that matter.
"The county is using us as pawns in their battle," said Levy. "It's politics above people at its very worst."
In his letter, Mangano urged agencies to contact the nine legislative Democrats "to discuss how their vote can avoid canceling your contract."
Democrats, who have refused to vote for the tax refunds until they are guaranteed a redistricting process "fairer" than one proposed by the GOP, say they won't budge.
"We need a two-party system where both sides are relevant and where there are checks and balances," said legislative Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).
Abrahams and Mangano met for an hour on Monday, but did not reach a deal. "They agreed to continue discussion prior to the vote," Nevin said.
The standoff could mean a reduction or elimination of services to more than 20,000 Nassau youths, Nevin said.
For example, YES Community Counseling Center in Massapequa receives $257,000 for school-based social work, counseling, and drug and alcohol treatment, said executive director Jamie Bogenshutz. She said it would be "catastrophic" if the funds were to dry up.
"People don't understand the impact of what's going on right now," Bogenshutz said. "They won't understand until there are kids drinking and drugging in their backyard."
Mangano is attempting several other measures to secure funding for the tax refunds. He wants the state legislature to pass a bill allowing him to borrow for refunds without first getting approval of the legislature or the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state monitoring board in control of the county's finances. Mangano also has introduced local legislation allowing him to use $192 million bonding previously approved by the legislature in 2004 and 2005.
And last month, the county legislature approved a bill that would allow Mangano to make more than $40 million in cuts to the budget, including furloughs and changes to labor contracts. County labor unions say they will challenge that measure, which has yet to be signed, in federal court.
With Laura Figueroa