CB Gripes Raised At Budget Hearing
Reductions Could Mean Lost Services
Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, who has said she will resist any effort to diminish the borough’s 14 community boards, listened last Tuesday, Feb. 9 as many of the county’s 14 advisory boards expressed fears about the mayor’s proposed preliminary and capital budgets cuts at an all-day public hearing.
The proposed $63.6 billion budget includes $500 million in reductions to agencies this year and another $1.1 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
Marshall specified that the reductions for 2011 could include the loss of almost 900 police officers, the closing of 20 fire companies, the reduction of homecare for senior citizens, the elimination of $6 million for the Queens library system and the elimination of Rockaway ferry service.
More than 150 individuals representing the boards, nonprofit groups and cultural institutions registered to speak at the City Charter-mandated hearing, which took place at Queens Borough Hall.
Community board representatives expressed concerns about staffing and supplies if proposed cuts of 2.5 percent this year and another five percent for the fiscal year beginning July 1 are adopted.
Community Board 7 District Manager Marilyn Bitterman suggested cutting the planting of new trees by 40 in each community district to help restore proposed cuts to the boards. “How can I run an office with a one-and-a-half-person staff?” she asked, expressing the fears of many of the chairs that reduced funding would result in reduced staffing.
Board 7, which covers Flushing, College Point, Whitestoneand other communities, is the largest of the city’s 59 community boards with 259,000 residents living within its borders.
Board 2 suggested 28 fewer trees in each district would go a long way in helping to restore community board budgets. “A few less trees wouldn’t hurt,” said Marshall. “That seems to be the consensus of the boards.”
Marshall, who served on Community Board 3 in Corona/Jackson Heights for 13 years, recalled the days before the creation of community boards. “It was so difficult because so many people had to go into Manhattan to get action” on complaints about city services.
At her swearing-in on Jan. 26, Marshall characterized the local boards as “valuable forums in which to air local concerns,” and vowed that she would “oppose any effort to stifle their voices.”
Other budget concerns ranged from library service to medical care and flooding to the number of police officers on patrol. Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6, noted that his district had lost a nearby hospital (St. John’s Queens Hospital in Elmhurst), and while waiting for a library was getting new trees.
Queens Library Director Thomas Galante said if the budget is adopted, the number of libraries that the system already announced would be closed on weekends would rise from 14 to 34 by the end of the year.
Scott Silver of the Queens Zoo, which hosted 220,000 visitors in a year, sought funding for a new chlorine system and a long-awaited jaguar exhibit—the only such exhibit in the tri-state area.
Executive Director Sheila Lewandowski of the Chocolate Factory, a performing arts center in Long Island City, said 10 percent of her budget is expected to “disappear” on July 1, and said he needs funding for the contents of a new Visitors Center for the Louis Armstrong House in Corona.
July Trijivas, of Mt. Sinai Hospital Queens, said it has plans to build a new building, but needs $1.7 million for a new Emergency Department.
And Joan Serrano-Laufer of the Queensborough Council for Social Welfare, said the organization needs funding for additional space for its outreach efforts to victims of elder abuse and the current foreclosure crisis.
Marshall, joined at various times by City Council Members Karen Koslowitz, Peter Vallone, Eric Ulrich, Leroy Comrie, Daniel Dromm and others, vowed to do all that she could do to protect the boards.
The Borough Board consists of the borough [resident, the borough’s City Council delegation and the chairperson of each community board.
The day’s light moment came when Greg Mays of Better Jamaica, which puts on theater entertainment for children, presented members of the board with individual bags of popcorn.
“We can’t give these bags of popcorn to our audiences,” said Mays, “It’s not in the budget.”
Mays is seeking $20,000 in funding for future events.
Marshall said that testimony given at last Tuesday’s hearing would be used to help establish the borough’s priorities package, which will be sent back to the mayor and City Council prior to the deadline for adopting the budget.
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