Protecting seniors, improving transportation and retaining and creating jobs were among the topics discussed by Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder (D-Howard Beach) at his town hall meeting held at the Rockwood Park Jewish Center in Howard Beach last week.
Goldfeder convened the meeting to discuss the 100 days he just wrapped up in office and to lend an ear to constituents’ complaints.
The assemblyman told the audience that last year Gov. Cuomo threatened a $25 million budget cut that would have closed about 105 senior centers in the city, including some in southern Queens. After budget negotiations and many rallies, the senior centers did not close.
Concerned about the need to preserve funding for the programs, Goldfeder said he sent a letter to Cuomo last week and asked that he not cut the federal discretionary funding that goes to many centers across the city. Cuomo had last year proposed to completely eliminate discretionary funding for the facilities, which, according to senior advocates, would have had a devastating impact on older residents, many of whom rely on the institutions for food and social interaction.
The assemblyman discussed the impact of recent changes in the city’s administration of the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Program.
SCRIE protects nearly 40,000 New York City seniors living on fixed incomes from rent increases.
Goldfeder said that in 2009, oversight of the program was transferred from the city’s Department for the Aging to the Department of Finance.
He said that when the program was run by DFTA, “it was great; there was a great department running it; it was utilized; it was doing really, really well.”
However, Goldfeder accused the DOF of cutting “the program so tremendously that it had such an adverse affect on the seniors.”
The assemblyman told the audience that he attended an Assembly hearing last month which examined the impact of the recent changes to the SCRIE program.
“We must do everything we can to keep seniors in their homes and fixing SCRIE will go a long way toward doing just that,” Goldfeder said.
The assemblyman said that one of his immediate goals is the elimination of the toll on the Cross Bay Bridge — for which U.S. Rep. Bob Turner (R-Queens, Brooklyn), state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach) and Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) have advocated.
“The bridge toll is just another tax on local residents, it’s as simple as that,” Goldfeder said.
Goldfeder encouraged audience members to join with their friends and neighbors to sign his online petition to end the Cross Bay Bridge toll.
He said he has sent a letter to newly appointed Metropolitan Transportation Authority Executive Director Joseph Lhota, asking him to meet with area residents to personally hear their complaints about the bridge tolls.
“The toll is hurting Queens residents and placing a great burden on the local economy and the small businesses in the area,” Goldfeder said in his letter to Lhota. “We should be doing everything we can to attract visitors and businesses to our area, not charging them a fee to get here.”
According to an MTA spokesman in 2009, the Cross Bay Bridge costs about $4 million annually to operate. The latest figures available on the MTA website show the toll brought in nearly $14 million in revenue in 2010.
Goldfeder told the audience that more public transportation options have to be made available to residents of his district, including more express buses.
With riders crowded in the express buses during the weekday morning rush hours, Lindenwood resident Phyllis Silvestri told the assemblyman that more buses should be put on the road during these times.
However, Silvestri felt that the MTA could save money by reducing the number of express buses it runs from her community to Manhattan on Saturdays. She told Goldfeder that on Saturdays there are 10 express buses making the trip into the city, but felt five would be sufficient.
“If you want to save money, put it where you need it,” Silvestri said.
Goldfeder said that in response to numerous complaints from community residents and Liberty Avenue merchants about the city Department of Transportation’s reconfigured traffic pattern at the intersection of Liberty Avenue and Crossbay Boulevard, he has written a letter to Maura McCarthy, the DOT Queens borough commissioner.
“The recent changes at the intersection have adversely affected many local businesses and have caused confusion for drivers and pedestrians,” Goldfeder told McCarthy. “The Department of Transportation needs to make the intersection safe for our families and also work to the benefit of our local small businesses.”
Among the DOT modifications was converting Liberty Avenue to a one-way eastbound street between 93rd Street and Cross Bay Boulevard, which forces cars to circle around if they want to shop at the stores on the block. A concrete barrier was also placed along Cross Bay Boulevard to prevent Liberty Avenue traffic from crossing through the intersection.
At the meeting, Democratic Assembly District Leader Lew Simon called for the reopening of the old Long Island Railroad’s Rockaway Beach line, which was shut down in 1962.
Simon said the two-hour subway ride into Manhattan would be shortened to 18 minutes between Ozone Park and Penn Station on the Rockaway Beach Line.
Goldfeder was positive about the Resorts World New York Casino in the South Ozone Park neighborhood.
“Having a casino here in Queens has created local jobs, attracts new business and brings tourists to our area, all of which will generate revenue and give a boost to our local economy,” Goldfeder said at the meeting. “Resorts World has been a great community partner throughout this entire process, and I look forward to continuing that partnership into the future for the good of the entire community.”