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Nonprofits urge Suffolk to restore proposed cuts

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone releases and talks

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone releases and talks about the county's budget at his office in the Dennision Buiding in Hauppauge. (Sept. 20, 2013) Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

Nonprofits set to lose funding in Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's 2014 budget have begun lobbying lawmakers to restore the cuts, saying that critical programs for the ill and needy are at risk.

Bellone's $2.76-billion spending plan would trim about $3 million in contract agency funding from the $100.8 million in this year's budget. Many county lawmakers initially believed the administration was proposing an unprecedented one-third (or $33 million) cut in aid to the 339 mostly nonprofit groups that received funds in 2013, but learned Wednesday that the bulk of that money -- for health centers and hospitals -- had simply been moved to a different part of the budget.

The cuts that remain, however, brought numerous advocates to Tuesday's county legislature budget hearing in Riverhead. Lawmakers will vote on potential budget amendments Nov. 6, the day after most of them face re-election.

At Tuesday's hearing, pleas came from the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, which would lose $35,000 Suffolk now provides for a heroin addiction social worker; the Long Island Association for AIDS Care, which would lose its $154,000 contract; and Response of Suffolk County, a suicide prevention hotline, which would lose $47,000 in county Youth Bureau aid that helps fund its online teen outreach programs.

"I don't think anyone can argue heroin addiction isn't one of Suffolk's most-pressing problems, but the county executive doesn't seem to view it as a priority," said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Meryl Cassidy, director of Response of Suffolk County, said the loss of its $47,000 contract would require a small staff to spend more time fundraising and less time on the core mission of providing support to suicidal residents.

"It's ironic that Suffolk County's only 24-hour crisis center is in crisis," Cassidy said.

Replying generally to the agencies' pleas, Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said Wednesday the administration must continue to make "tough choices," after already reducing the county payroll by 1,000 workers since early 2012 -- but not yet closing a budget deficit still estimated at $180 million.

"While they certainly handle a lot of critical functions for us, it's important that county funding should not become part of these groups' baseline budgets," Schneider said. "It's something up for renewal every year. People tend to build that money into their bases when they shouldn't."

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