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Queens Chronicle

Same old song on FY 2014 budget

Mayor, Council to negotiate cuts to firehouses, education, social services

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Posted: Thursday, May 9, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 10:43 am, Thu May 16, 2013.

The reviews are in, and critics of Mayor Bloomberg’s final executive budget are saying they have seen this show before.

And, as per usual, there is likely to be a rousing closing dance number when City Council members restore funding for the same fire companies, after-school programs, senior centers and libraries that have been proposed for cuts by the mayor for years.

Bloomberg’s 2013-14 spending proposal comes in at $69.8 billion. A new budget will take effect on July 1.

“Like every budget our administration has produced, this one will be balanced, and we’ll do it without increasing taxes or cutting critical services New Yorkers rely on,” Bloomberg said.

But he also said the city has projected deficits of $2.2, $1.9 and $1.4 billion in fiscal years 2015-17.

“Even with our fiscal discipline, the costs we cannot control without help from our partners in labor and in Albany continue to siphon money away from services and remain a long-term challenge,” he said.

Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and Finance Committee Chairman Domenic Recchia (D-Brooklyn) said in a joint statement that they are disturbed by the cuts recommended for children’s programs, firehouses and libraries.

They were pleased that the city is accelerating hiring for the NYPD to maintain current staffing levels.

They said the city’s overall fiscal outlook continues to reflect “the solid and steady improvements” that the Council had anticipated.

But they too signaled that the annual budget ritual will not change.

“We look forward to a thoughtful review during the Council’s budget hearings ... and the negotiating process to again deliver an on-time budget that meets the needs of all New Yorkers,” they said in the statement.

Some members of the Council’s Queens delegation were not nearly as diplomatic.

“It’s frustrating to have to go through the same thing year after year after year,” Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said in a telephone interview.

“We continually have to go and put back the same items, things that should be part of the baseline services, like day care, fire houses and other essential services.”

“After 11 years in office, it is disappointing to see that Mayor Michael Bloomberg has once again decided to cut vital services and programs across the city, which will reduce the quality of life for its residents,” Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) said Tuesday in a statement, issued by his office.

Comrie called it an irony that Bloomberg is proposing $13 million in cuts to education programs that in part, keep children off the street and help children exercise “while the mayor advocates for healthy lifestyle and antiviolence initiatives,” Comrie said.

Dromm, who is a member of the Council’s Finance Committee, would not, however, declare Bloomberg’s budget to be dead on arrival.

“But the Council certainly needs to find the funding for these services,” he said. “The cuts would be devastating.”

He said the city needs to look for more sources of revenue, citing the continued growth forecast for the economy, particularly for things like the pension costs mentioned by Bloomberg.

“We saw increased city contributions when the markets suffered a downturn, but they’re coming back,” he said.

Bloomberg’s budget message touched on the skyrocketing cost of employee benefits. Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) blasted Bloomberg over the fact that all municipal unions will be working without contracts next year, and that Bloomberg’s budget contains zero funding for municipal raises.

“That elephant will still be in the room in January,” Weprin said in an interview. “The mayor has essentially decided to punt on this one and drop it in the lap of the next mayor.”

Comptroller John Liu, who is also running for mayor as a Democrat, agreed.

“In all, it represents a holding-pattern budget that gets Mayor Bloomberg out the door, even as it leaves a passel of problems for his successor,” Liu said in a statement issued by his office.

Quinn is considered the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination for mayor.

Republican Joe Lhota, running for the Republican nod, praised Bloomberg in a statement on his campaign website.

“I applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s fiscal acumen and commitment to fiscal responsibility,” Lhota said.

Outgoing Borough President Helen Marshall, on the other hand, was more in line with Council members, saying Bloomberg did not address efforts to restore program funding.

She said the borough’s libraries are slated to lose $30 million, and that four Queens fire companies are once again on the chopping block.

Dromm said the Bloomberg administration still has not released a list of the fire stations in question.

“But even if it’s not in my district, closing a firehouse in Queens has an impact on public safety in my district because other companies now have to respond,” he said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) also was not as happy as Quinn and Recchia to only maintain existing NYPD staffing levels.

“Continuously relying on overtime to keep the NYPD understaffed and close fire companies is fiscally irresponsible management that puts our city in danger,” Crowley said in a statement issued by her office.

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) echoed Crowley’s sentiments about the firehouses.

Koslowitz, Weprin and Comrie said cuts to day care and after-school offerings like Beacon programs compromise public safety as well as education. Weprin said the same of library cuts.

Koslowitz compared those cuts to the closing of a firehouse, saying, “We cannot compromise our public safety by closing firehouses nor risk harming our children if we take away services that provide a safe and supportive culture of learning and cognitive development.”

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