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NIFA OKs emergency contract for volunteer firefighter training

Nassau County volunteer firefighters conduct a live residential

Nassau County volunteer firefighters conduct a live residential fire of Christmas trees to emphasize the importance of vigilant hydrating of all natural Christmas trees at the Nassau County V.E.E.B Fire Service Academy on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, in Old Bethpage. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The state oversight board that controls Nassau County’s finances approved a rare $400,000 “emergency” contract Thursday after a nonprofit group threatened to end mandatory training programs for volunteer firefighters because of a lack of funding.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano sent a letter to the Nassau Interim Finance Authority asking the board’s staff to approve funds for the Hicksville-based Vocational Education and Extension Board.

NIFA officials approved the funding, but noted that a $4.3 million contract to fund the program for all of 2016 had “languished” for months and was submitted to the board only last week.

The $400,000 disbursement is enough to keep the training program funded for more than a month, officials said.

Mangano’s request came after State Assembly Republicans Joseph Saladino, Michael Montesano, Thomas McKevitt, Brian Curran, Edward Ra and David McDonough wrote to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, complaining that NIFA had yet to approve funding to keep the program afloat.

“This is essential to provide the lifesaving services for EMTs, firefighters and emergency responders,” Saladino said in an interview.

Kenneth Gray, an attorney for the Vocational Education and Extension Board, wrote in a letter to County Attorney Carnell Foskey that without the training, volunteer fire companies would be “unable to dispatch trucks” to emergency calls.

NIFA has been without a chairman since Jon Kaiman departed nearly three weeks ago to run for Congress. The board cannot meet and approve contracts until Cuomo appoints a replacement.

NIFA staff are permitted to approve contracts of less than $500,000 if Mangano issues a “notice of emergency.” Typically, emergency notifications are used after a natural disaster or in response to a public health risk.

Presiding Officer Norma Gonsalves (R-East Meadow) suggested the emergency funding request in a letter to Mangano and NIFA Wednesday.

NIFA General Counsel Jeremy Wise responded to Gonsalves that the board had “cautioned” the county to get the contract to them immediately but the deal “languished” for months.

The contract was signed by Vocational Education and Extension Board President Philip Malloy Jr. on Oct. 30, but the legislature did not vote on it until Jan. 25. County Comptroller George Maragos approved the contract Feb. 10 and it was received by NIFA on Feb. 17.

Jeffrey Reynolds, president of Mineola-based Family and Children’s Association, which runs several social services programs for the county, said many vendors are enduring long delays in getting the county to approve millions of dollars in contracts. Some nonprofits, he said, are discussing the possibility of having to furlough staff and stop payments to vendors.

“My fear is that the county rushes to play catch-up only to have these contracts sit at NIFA, where no one has the authority to sign off,” Reynolds said.

With Michael Gormley and Paul LaRocco

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