Representatives from the Beacon program at MS 158 touted its merits and asked that it be saved during the monthly meeting of Community Board 11 Monday night at the Bayside school.
Several members of the larger-than-usual audience, drawn by the impending closing of the Beacon program, spoke of its value to the community. It is one of two such programs in Queens on the mayor’s chopping block for the next fiscal year.
“It gives them confidence and skills that contribute to their academic success, and access to computers, music, art, sports and drama. It runs an all-day program in the summer that many families in our community rely on,” said Kim D’Angelo, the school’s PTA president.
D’Angelo added that the program provides a crucial service to the community: “The $347,000 needed to make this program work is an investment in our children and our community.”
A rally is planned for April 24 in front of the school at 6 p.m.
CB 11 issued a resolution to oppose closing the program. The board urged the mayor and the Department of Youth and Community Development to allow the Beacon program to continue and promised to continue to do all in its power to oppose the scheduled closure.
Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows), who is running for the Democratic nomination for Congress, attended the meeting and called the threatened closing a significant issue and urged everyone to consider how important Beacon programs are.
Also speaking at the meeting was city Comptroller John Liu, who addressed several issues of concern, not the least of which was his own uncertain political future.
When questioned, he said, “I have not made clear exactly what I’ll do in next year’s election.” He also said that certain quotes that have been attributed to him in the press “are completely fabricated,” though he did not cite examples.
Regarding allegations that have been lodged against his campaign, he said, “None of them have ever been proven. We uphold the highest level of ethics in everything we do.”
Saying that “the last few months have been pretty interesting for me,” Liu indicated that he didn’t mean “to make light of a serious situation” regarding allegations of illegal fundraising practices by his campaign.
The comptroller from Flushing pointed out that it “has been my focus to reduce wasteful spending” in government.He spoke briefly about the tarnished CityTime project, a costly attempt to modernize the city’s payroll system, noting that a couple of weeks ago the major government contractor involved in the project agreed to pay the city $500 million in restitution and penalties.
Liu said that last week he released an audit on the 911 call system, which the city “has mismanaged” and which he determined is now $1 billion over budget.
He also spoke of the city’s tax lien sale and pointed out that any property owner can avoid having his or her lien sold by doing one of the following before May 17: pay the charges in full; arrange a payment agreement with the city Department of Finance or the Department of Environmental Protection; or try to qualify for an exemption.
One audience member asked Liu if it would be possible to have an independent agency investigate the increase in water rates.
While admitting it would be virtually impossible to have a completely independent agency, he said, of the water board, “I believe there should be at least a more independent agency. Right now, it’s almost completely controlled” by the mayor.While poking fun at those who refer to the most recent increase as only 7 per cent, he called the past four years of double-digit increases “completely ludicrous. Homeowners are feeling it all over the place.”
Liu also indicated that his office is conducting an audit of the Parks Department, including nearby Little Bay Park, that should be completed by the fall.
The comptroller encouraged those in attendance to help his office by suggesting areas where audits might be conducted. “As smart as our auditors are, we’re never as knowledgeable as the people who have to deal with agencies on a daily basis,” he said. “We’re always looking for audit ideas.”
In other matters covered by the board at the meeting, two expired variance renewals were acted upon.
An application to renew a previously granted variance for a gas service station located at 35-04 Bell Blvd. was approved by the board, despite an eight-month lapse since the prior exemption expired.
A second application, this one for a special permit to operate Powerhouse Gym at 34-09 Francis Lewis Blvd., proved much more controversial. The gym was involved in a drug scandal in 2007, and its latest permit expired in 2006.
After a long and often heated discussion, a motion carried to approve the special permit, but only for a term of five years, rather than the 10 years the owners had sought.
Julius Wool, executive director of Queens Hospital Center in Jamaica, spoke briefly on the “real crisis” the borough is facing because of the closings of four hospitals in the borough, leading to what he called a “very precarious” situation.
He noted that QHC has experienced a 70 percent increase in emergency room visits over the past three years.