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Islip officials outline department changes

Days after Islip officials announced plans to reorganize the town's human services department, residents flooded a board meeting to voice concerns about potential job and service cuts.

Two hours of Tuesday night's meeting was spent on public comment -- and an overwhelming majority opposed the plan to streamline, which officials hope will save $1.6 million in 2013.

Many speakers came to defend Access/Acceso, a substance-abuse counseling program that officials hope to revert to Suffolk County to save $540,000 per year. Acting DHS Commissioner Carol Charchalis said the program served more than 1,200 people in 2011 and has served about 450 so far this year.

"It's a place for people who are lost and seek treatment and can't find it other places," said Jose Chamberlain, of Bayport. "Every one of those dollars you're trying to save, you're probably going to ruin someone's life."

Under the reorganization, several of the department's divisions would be dismantled to erase administrative and employee redundancies, Councilman Anthony Senft said.

Officials, grappling with a projected $26 million shortfall, say an unspecified number of the department's 113 full- and part-time jobs will be eliminated. Changes would take effect Nov. 1, Senft said, but town officials will not be able to say how many jobs will be cut until meetings are held with Suffolk County Civil Service.

Stephanie Terry, who works for Access/Acceso, complained that she found out "my job was in jeopardy through reading a Newsday article."

"I feel very disrespected and disappointed that this was not handled differently," she said.

Brent Munoz, of Dix Hills, an alumnus of the program, said Access/Acceso helped him turn his life around and become a better father. "There was something about that place when I walked in that I did not get from any other program, a level of care you will not see in any other program," Munoz said.

After the public testimony, Supervisor Tom Croci and the four-member town board voted unanimously to decline continued grant money for Access/Acceso and voted to create an Americans with Disabilities Act liaison position, also part of the plan. Public hearings on the reorganization were scheduled for May 8."There was a lot of spirited testimony here tonight, and I appreciate all of it," Croci said.

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