Funding request met with mixed emotions

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NAUGATUCK — When the borough moved to privatize the former Naugatuck Youth and Family Services several years ago, the plan was to diminish borough funding for its successor — Naugatuck Youth Services.

So, when Naugatuck Youth Services Director Kristin Mabrouk presented a budget to the Board of Finance on Monday that included $20,000 for a community-based diversion program, the request was met with mixed emotions.

Mabrouk presented an overall budget request for 2017-18 of $57,753, a decrease of $13,327, or 18.7 percent, over the current budget.

The proposal includes $10,700 for the cost of utilities and repairs to the nonprofit organization’s building on Scott Street, which the borough owns, and $26,609 for the borough’s portion of a matching state grant for the organization.

Naugatuck Youth Services was created when the borough decided to stop funding the Naugatuck Youth and Family Services department in 2013. The move was part of the borough’s long-term strategic plan that also included closing the Naugatuck Visiting Nurses Association and privatizing trash and recycling collection.

At the time, the borough voted in favor of subsidizing the organization for three years as it found grants to support itself. The borough stills pays for the building, since it owns it, and the funds for the matching grant.

This current fiscal year, which is the last of the three years, the borough is contributing $27,258 to subsidize the organization.

Mabrouk said she’s seeking the $20,000 for the diversion program because the state is cutting funding to the Family with Service Needs program.

The program intervenes in cases where a child under 18 might go to court. The program allows various community members, such as the superintendent, police officers, or a child’s parents, to refer cases to the state.

The state is eliminating the program for school systems as of August and eliminating the rest of the program as of July 2018, Mabrouk said.

The state plans to roll out a second program that would do similar things, Mabrouk said. However, the implementation date of that program is not set in stone.

Mabrouk’s proposed diversion program would be a stop-gap measure to ensure children still receive the services they need during the time between the two programs.

“We won’t need to wait, let time lapse, and let a bunch of kids not get services that they need,” Mabrouk said.

However, some board members were not pleased to see the proposed program’s price tag.

“Three years ago we set up a program where we were going to subsidize you for three years and then stop that and just pay for the building and utilities and matching grant. Now all of a sudden we are hit with a $20,000 fee to set up a diversionary program to take the place of the state’s [program] they aren’t doing anymore,” Board of Finance member Dan Sheridan said.

Sheridan asked why this was something the Board of Education wasn’t looking into rather than youth services.

Mabrouk said there are instances where, if the Board of Education makes a recommendation for a service to be provided to be a student, it could incur the full cost of the program.

“If it falls under certain special education requirements they would have to pay for the full service rather than if someone coordinates and connects them with the services. Then they could ideally get that covered by insurance,” Mabrouk said.

Burgess Pat Scully recommended Mabrouk talk to the school board to see if they could work together on it.

“If the education department has state grants they can use, we should be going through the Board of Education instead of the borough boards, which are strictly on the taxpayers. We should be going to the Board of Education first to look for funding. Then, if they can’t come up with funding and can’t find state or federal grants, you come back to us,” Scully said.

Some board members argued in favor of the funding.

Board of Finance member Joseph Savarese said schools are suspending students less and instead referring them to counselors and paraprofessionals for help. He added the borough’s changing demographics have led to more at-risk youth living in Naugatuck.

“If a kid is not successful at being worked through the school system and maybe turned around, what is the alternative? Jail. There may be something here with Naugatuck Youth Services to pick up that overflow of those kids who can’t be successful in the district,” Savarese said.

Board of Finance Vice Chairman Andrew Bottinick said he understands the program would be helpful, but that it was something the borough couldn’t afford at the time.

“We have to make tough decisions every day here. I would love to fund everything. We would love to give the police, fire, and street departments everything they ask for. But it’s not realistic,” Bottinick said.