In his preliminary budget for next year, Mayor de Blasio is looking to increase city spending by more than $4 billion.
But Borough President Melinda Katz wants more.
On Monday, the Queens Borough Board, consisting of City Council members and community board chairpersons, approved a list prepared by Katz’s office that seeks funding for school and youth programs, a new police precinct carved out of the existing 105th, and an increase in staff at her office to better address the ever-increasing cultural and language needs of Queens’s burgeoning immigrant population.
But along with the mayor’s overall spending increase are decreases in areas where Katz and her Budget Director Richard Lee said the city needs to not only restore proposed cuts, but increase the allocations.
And while Katz praised the mayor for his handling of the process thus far — “It’s nice to have a mayor who doesn’t engage in the annual budget dance,” she said in a swat at former Mayor Bloomberg — she declined to say just where she expects de Blasio to print the extra money she and the board want.
“A budget is a list of priorities,” Katz said after the meeting. “And I think the mayor and I share many of the same priorities.”
In her own office, Katz would like to go from 54 positions to 64, an increase she said is necessitated by growing numbers of immigrants who, while they may not yet master English, still need some city services.
“Forty-eight percent of our residents are foreign-born, and 28 percent have limited English proficiency,” Katz said. Lee said the intent is to expand the scope of constituent service in a way that is “linguistically and culturally appropriate.”
Katz also would like the NYPD to split the 105th Precinct, headquartered in Queens Village, and break off the southerly portion to form a new 116th Precinct.
“That’s been on our list for 20 years,” said Bryan Block, chairman of Community Board 13, citing the vast expanse of territory that officers now must cover.
Katz, in fact, is calling on the city to fund the top capital expense priorities of all the community boards, ranging from train sound barriers in CB 1 to the reconstruction of Cross Bay Boulevard in CB 14.
Katz said her office is reopening former Borough President Claire Shulman’s “education war room” to assist the Department of Education with building or leasing needed classroom space.
A priority where Katz and the mayor disagree is one near and dear to the borough president’s heart — that of funding for the arts and cultural affairs.
De Blasio’s preliminary budget calls for $7.2 million in aid to places like the Queens Botanical Garden, the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning and the Museum of the Moving Image, representing a cut of more than $1.2 million.
Katz said Queens receives the lowest per capita arts funding of the five boroughs.
While de Blasio is seeking increases in spending for police and fire personnel, he is looking to slash nonpersonnel expenditures for those departments by $87 and $12.4, million respectively.
Sanitation, a major issue in Community Board 12 to the southeast, has been targeted for $504,000 in personnel cuts.
Katz’s office wants the city to undertake numerous efforts to assist small businesses and to expand the tech sector in and around Long Island City.
Joseph Conley, chairman of Community Board 2, said he hopes the city’s plans will include financial and legislative help with industrial business zones.
“They’re under attack,” Conley said. “Ever since Willets Point, we’ve had three or four places where people are trying to change the zoning.”
Speaking afterward, Council Members Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) expressed confidence thus far in de Blasio’s projections for revenue to pay for the executive budget he will submit on or before April 24.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) was not quite so sure. He pointed to de Blasio’s inclusion of more than $500 million in new city income taxes for pre-kindergarten programs that he said “is dead on arrival in Albany.” He was not consoled by Gov. Cuomo’s plans to fund pre-K at the state level.
“What happens if we as a Council pass a budget and the money isn’t there?” he asked. Koslowitz said the mayor has more than a month to fine-tune his proposal.
“It’s all part of the budgeting process,” she said.
New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Tuesday released a cautiously optimistic overview of Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary $73 billion budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Like every other analysis of recent pedigree, DiNapoli said the city’s 150-plus unsettled labor contracts cast a shadow of uncertainty over city finances.
“While strong economic growth has boosted city revenues, Mayor de Blasio continues to grapple with ongoing structural deficits and labor contracts that have remained unsettled for too long,” DiNapoli said in a statement issued by his office. “The final cost and structure of these agreements may not be known for some time. This plan is a strong starting point for the mayor and I urge him to remain cautious and look at the long-term picture.”
DiNapoli said city revenues could prove to be higher than the administration is predicting, and praised de Blasio for “appropriately” using higher-than-anticipated tax revenues to reduce future projected budget deficits and build up a fund reserve. The increases are attributed to strong growth in real estate values and higher personal income tax revenue due to things like strong job growth.
He also said potential problems include the uncertainty over the receipt of $1.2 billion in taxi medallion revenue through 2017, and whether the Health and Hospitals Corp. may require more money than anticipated. “It also is unclear if federal aid from Superstorm Sandy will fall short of expectations,” he said.
Debt service and employee health insurance costs, DiNapoli said, are expected to increase by $4.6 billion, or 47 percent, between now and fiscal year 2017-18.
Positive indicators include steady economic growth, and steadily shrinking unemployment numbers since 2009.
The city’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 7.8 percent in January is the lowest in five years but still is higher than the national average and higher than before the recession.