Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy at a press conference in...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy at a press conference in Commack. (April 27, 2011) Credit: Ed Betz

New York State and Suffolk County have reached an agreement that will stave off severe cuts and layoffs at the county's nine health centers this year, officials said Tuesday.

The state had announced cutbacks totaling nearly $20 million. But Deputy County Executive Kenneth Crannell said Tuesday that under the agreement the cuts would be about half that for 2011. Crannell warned at a county legislative meeting in Riverhead that the pact does not protect the health centers next year.

"We're pleased we were able to strike a compromise which averts disaster for 2011," County Executive Steve Levy said later. "There is still pain but we avoided Armageddon."

Jeffrey Gordon, the state Health Department spokesman, confirmed the agreement but declined to provide details until the settlement is approved by a judge.

Crannell said the agreement means that health centers, which serve about 50,000 clients a year, will face reductions for the rest of the year of about 8.4 percent. He said the clinics had been facing cuts of 22 percent, and local health advocates warned that spending reductions of that magnitude would have driven patients to emergency rooms, where treatment is far more expensive. The health centers also will face an 8.4 percent reduction next year to cover the remainder of the state aid cuts, Crannell said.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) pressed Crannell for information about cuts that Levy may have planned this year for the centers. Crannell said he did not know, prompting Schneiderman to remark: "That gives me no level of comfort."

The stipulation settles a lawsuit the county brought late last year claiming the state illegally clawed back aid revenue -- some dating to 2008 -- after the state had approved services and the county already treated patients.

State health officials maintained that Suffolk had improperly overbilled for ineligible services, including care for chronic adult medical problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure. There also were cuts to the crime lab, the medical examiner's office and to the training program for volunteer emergency workers.

In other action Tuesday:

The Legislature overrode a veto by Levy of the Suffolk County Community College budget. Levy had objected to an increase of $386,000 in the county's contribution; the hike was designed to keep tuition at $3,990, matching tuition at Nassau Community College for full-time students.

Levy filed a bill that would enable him to negotiate a three-year extension of the Suffolk red-light camera program, and to bring it back to the Legislature for final approval. Levy did not press for an immediate vote on the measure, which is expected to go through the committee process in the next month.

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