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Suffolk lawmakers approve $165,000 for cultural programs

Photo of the seal of the Suffolk County

Photo of the seal of the Suffolk County Legislature in the lobby of the legislature building in Hauppauge. Credit: NEWSDAY/Thomas A. Ferrara

The Suffolk Legislature has approved $164,804 for cultural programs, despite criticism from some lawmakers that the selection process for arts groups was skewed and should be fixed before the money is disbursed.

The lawmakers voted 11-6 on Tuesday, across party lines, to approve funding for two dozen organizations after a tabling vote failed by the same numbers.

The opposition was led by Huntington Democratic lawmakers William Spencer and Susan Berland, who said six arts groups from the town applied for funding, but received nothing.

Spencer and Berland questioned the order in which applications were considered. They also said the highest and lowest scores of the screening committee were not discarded, as they are for veterans groups that get money from the Long Island Marathon.

“I want to make sure we have a process that cannot be sandbagged,” said Spencer, who at one point suggested the legislature allocate the funding directly or split it among applicants equally.

“It goes against every grain of my body to vote against arts funding, but I can’t vote for this,” unless the process is made fairer, Berland said.

Of 51 groups that applied for funding, 24 were selected. The money comes from the county hotel-motel room tax.

Eleven of the groups that received funding are based on the East End. The screening committee is made up of appointees by each of the 18 county lawmakers, although the process is overseen by county economic development officials and gives consideration to applicants whose activities will attract people to downtowns.

Amy Keys, legislative liaison for County Executive Steve Bellone, told Spencer that Bellone was “absolutely committed" to meeting with him and other lawmakers to review the selection process to determine if it can be made fairer for next year.

However, Keys said, any delay could pose difficulties for organizations making plans for this year's programs.

Also Tuesday, the legislature:

  • Approved an agreement with the Village of Ocean Beach on Fire Island that will allow village officials to place a trailer for free on county land in Yaphank, next to the county’s emergency operations center, to respond to disasters when access to the barrier island isn't feasible.
  • Authorized the county to enter into an agreement with the nonprofit Warrior Ranch Foundation to use six acres of the former Long Island Beagle Club property in Calverton to provide horse training therapy for veterans, many with post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Confirmed John Jordan as commissioner of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services and Andrea Neubauer Rogers as director of probation. Both had been serving on an interim basis.

Also Tuesday, Democrat Sam Gonzalez,  who won a special election last week to fill the Ninth District legislative seat vacated by state Sen. Monica Martinez, was sworn in and took part in his first meeting. Gonzalez will face a rematch with Republican Marie Vidal in November.

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