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Queens Chronicle

City Council analyzes project spending

Van Bramer calls on DDC to explain funding for cultural institutions

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

The recent Queens Library controversy has resulted in many questioning the process by which cultural groups around the city are allotted money.

After meeting with Queens Library head Thomas Galante, under whose leadership spending is being investigated, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who chairs the Cultural Affairs and Libraries Committee, called upon the Department of Design and Construction to explain what some Council members call a nontransparent procedure.

The DDC is the city’s primary capital construction project manager. It develops buildings such as the newly revamped Queens Museum.

“Although the DDC does not have its own budget, it manages a roughly $10 billion portfolio,” Van Bramer said. “DDC works in partnership with city agencies to complete innovative and useful projects. But particularly in light of news reports, we’ve convened this hearing of oversight on DDC on capital project procedures.”

The meeting was held on DDC Commissioner Feniosky Pe–a-Mora’s first day on the job so Deputy Commissioner David Resnick answered many of the Council members’ questions.

Though the meeting was not dedicated solely to the Queens Library — which now has put a hold on cash flow due to the investigation — Council members and DDC representatives frequently made reference to it.

Van Bramer, who used to work for the Queens Library, was particularly interested in the recent trend of projects having to go back to the drawing board because they are over budget, as was done with the Hunters Point library design.

“In the early portion of development, when the rubber meets the road, that’s when you’re going to have discrepancy of funds,” Resnick said.

He off-handedly estimated between 25 and 30 percent of projects go over budget during the first stage.

The procedure the Culutral Affairs Committee was most skeptical of is that of pass-throughs.

Pass-throughs are used for projects using both private and public money. Public money is granted and used to leverage more private dollars and the agency for which the project is serving oversees everything. Retroactively, the Office of Management and Budget goes through the project plan to approve reimbursement.

According to Resnick, aside from the major Central Library construction project, pass-throughs are generally given to smaller projects such as repairs to basements or roofs.

According to the Queens Library and DDC, while the large project came with a $20 million price tag, only $8 or $9 million was from the city.

“It seems like you don’t have any oversight for these pass-throughs,” said Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who has criticized the Queens Library on a number of occasions.

Resnick said that Cultural Affairs oversees these pass-throughs, though there is very limited oversight when the Queens Library opts for a pass-through — the recent redevelopment of the Central Library is the only Queens Library project to do so.

“There’s no transparency here,” Crowley said. “I wish we were having a whole hearing on pass-throughs so we could pick at this. How do you know workers are being paid properly and not off the books?”

She added that she trusts that DDC’s process is working but worries about the lack of transparency in how city dollars are spent on libraries and cultural programs, specifically with the pass-throughs.

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