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Protesters ask Islip not to cut 70 workers

Outside Islip Town Hall Tuesday afternoon, car horns blared and union members shouted to protest the impending layoffs of an expected 70 town workers. Inside, speaking before the town board, the coordinator of the town's crisis hotline made a quiet plea.

"There is no telling what the desperate or deeply depressed person will do" if the hotline is eliminated, said Claire Pandolfo, 57. Her position as the only full-time staffer assigned to the hotline is on a layoff list approved by the board last month. "People will fall through the cracks," she said, "and there will be an eventual loss of life."

The hotline receives about 500 calls a month and in the past week, she said, has fielded four calls from people considering suicide. It is staffed by Pandolfo, one part-time employee, and about 20 volunteers.

Pandolfo, who said she decided to accept a retirement incentive rather than face being laid off, was met by cheers and applause. Hotline volunteers then took the microphone to describe calls about drug overdoses, teenagers threatening to hurt themselves, and someone who was considering committing a murder-suicide.

In the 22 years Pandolfo has coordinated the hotline, they said, they have never lost a caller.

"There will be moral consequences for your decision," said Betty Ruest, 85, a volunteer from East Islip. She asked Supervisor Phil Nolan how he could lay off staff after handing out some managerial raises and promotions.

Nolan, noting that the number of planned layoffs has declined from 97 to about 70 because of retirements and other staff departures, said the town would keep the hotline open, but did not offer details.

"I do value it," Nolan told Ruest. "I'm not going to dismantle it."

Nolan has said the raises for five managers this year resulted from hiring agreements and changes in job duties. He said layoffs are necessary because of an anticipated $10 million budget shortfall.

Back outside, about 100 members of Teamsters Local 237 waved signs. And Justin Lambiase, 15, of Bay Shore stood with friends from Islip High School. He held a hand-painted poster that said: "Keep my mom!"

His mother, Judith Lambiase, a senior administrative assistant, is on the layoff list, which Newsday obtained through a Freedom of Information Law request.

"My mom's a single mother," Justin Lambiase said. "We're going to have no income."

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