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Youth program advocates press for funds

Sean Fessler, 16, from Valley Stream, rolls out

Sean Fessler, 16, from Valley Stream, rolls out a list of over 1,000 names of graduates of the Harriet Eisman Community School in Long Beach during the Nassau County Legislature meeting where advocates spoke out against cuts to Nassau County Youth Board. (Sept. 24, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Nassau County Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) distanced herself from the Republican majority Monday as she told youth advocates that she regretted voting to rescind $8 million in funding for the groups.

Ford's comments about the April vote came at a legislative meeting at which more than a dozen supporters of the anti-drug and delinquency programs repeated their calls for Nassau to restore funding once guaranteed through the county's red-light camera fund.

County Executive Edward Mangano has called Democrats responsible for the youth cuts because they have refused to approve borrowing to pay property tax refunds. Mangano included no funding for the youth programs in his proposed 2013 budget.

The Nassau County Youth Board, which has distributed county funding to a variety of nonprofits, handed layoff notices to its seven county youth program coordinators on Friday. The board's office has administered grants for youth drug and delinquency prevention programs for the past 47 years.

"Every single one of you will be remembered for destroying youth services in Nassau County, and nothing else," Julie Ann Sabino, director of the Harriet Eisman Community School, told legislators.

The Long Beach high school for at-risk youth relies on about $300,000 a year in county funding. Sabino said the school is still admitting students, but that officials are uncertain if they will have enough money to keep the program running past December.

Ford told the audience that she was once the victim of domestic violence, but was "lucky enough" to have had the support of a network of family and friends.

"It pains me greatly that we as a body up here have taken away the safety net," Ford said. " . . . I regret the fact that I did go along with the vote."

Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) offered a proposal that would reverse the legislature's original vote on the youth cuts. But Ford, while calling the proposal a "noble gesture," said Democrats should reconsider their opposition to the tax refund borrowing.

Mangano has pushed for $40 million in borrowing to pay for property tax refunds owed to homeowners, but has failed to get the necessary votes from Democrats. Democrats are using their votes as leverage in legislative redistricting talks.

In April, the legislature's 10 Republicans approved a measure rescinding the red-light camera funding once promised to the youth groups, in order to free up money to pay the tax refunds. Nassau this year faces a multimillion-dollar budget deficit.

"His word, his agreement means nothing to this side of the aisle," Abrahams said.

Referring to the bonding issue, Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said: "It's shameful that Democrats voted against measures that would have saved Nassau's youth programs."

Also Monday, lawmakers voted unanimously on a measure to hire an additional 10 to 15 county correction officers. Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker told legislators that early retirement incentives taken by 37 longtime officers earlier in the year had created room to bring the new officers on board.

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