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Nassau youth agencies lose $7.3M in funding

A group of children hang out together at

A group of children hang out together at Long Beach's Martin Luther King Jr. Center Thursday evening. The center is one of more than 40 youth social service agencies that had its county funding cut as of Thursday. The program provides annual after-school and summer programs for about 200 children. (July 5, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

More than 50 Nassau youth social service agencies officially lost their county funding Thursday, but negotiations to restore the funds are expected to resume Friday, according to county officials.

Many of the groups laid off employees and suspended summer programs after receiving notice from County Executive Edward Mangano last month that they would lose a combined $7.3 million in funding, effective Thursday, unless legislative Democrats approved a $41 million borrowing plan. Democrats have declined to approve the borrowing without a legislative redistricting plan that is "fairer" than one the Republicans have submitted.

The groups and their supporters plan to rally Friday in front of the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building in Mineola to protest the cuts.

"This is not about kids playing baseball on a Saturday," said Peter Levy, executive director of the Nassau County Youth Services Coalition, which represents nonprofits that provide mental health counseling, after-school tutoring and drug rehabilitation programs. "These are real kids and families with real problems."

At the Long Beach Martin Luther King Jr. Center, which serves some 200 children, a seven-week summer program has been canceled and four counselors were laid off last week.

"What's going to happen to all these children that need a safe, productive environment?" asked James Hodge, chairman of the center's board of directors.

The 53 agencies previously were funded through fines from the county's red-light camera program. But after Democrats repeatedly voted against Mangano's plan to borrow $41 million to pay tax refunds to commercial property owners, Republicans voted to give him unilateral authority to find savings, including defunding the youth groups.

Mangano said in a statement Thursday that the cuts can be avoided if at least three of nine Democrats join the Republican majority in approving his borrowing plan.

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) described his talks with Mangano about the issue this week as "healthy."

But Abrahams, who is scheduled to meet with Mangano again Friday, said any compromises would have to address financial issues including borrowing.

"He definitely wants to see some level of borrowing from us," Abrahams said of Mangano. "From our standpoint, we have some financial concerns. Maintaining a two-party system is also part of the discussion. I don't know what will come out of all this; what I can say is it is a healthy discussion. If there's a deal to be made, I would like to encourage my side of the aisle to consider it."

On Tuesday, Human Services Commissioner Lisa Murphy emailed requesting a list of all items purchased with county funds, saying they were subject to return to the county.

"Do you really want my outdated fax machine?" said Patrick Boyle, executive director of the Gateway Youth Outreach Center in Elmont, which will shut its doors for the summer and reopen in September when a state grant kicks in. "If you want it, come and get it. It's just so petty at this point."

Brian Nevin, Mangano's spokesman, said he was unaware of the email, and couldn't comment on whether the county would seek return of the items.

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