Thursday, April 15, 2010

Boards Rally Against Mayor's Proposed Cuts

Funding Reduction Would Severely Impact Board’s Role

By Conor Greene

Members of community boards from across Queens gathered on the steps of Borough Hall on Tuesday to demand that the Bloomberg administration rethinks its plans to reduce the groups’ budgets again this year.

Under Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed $64 billion city budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, each of the borough’s 14 local community boards would face a funding reduction of more than $17,000. That comes after several budget cuts reduced each board’s funding from about $206,000 several years ago to $144,000, according to one district manager.

On Tuesday, more than 100 board members, residents and district managers joined Borough President Helen Marshall to get the word out about how detrimental these cuts would be. They were joined by several City Council members, including Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), who both vowed to fight against these cuts as the budget process unfolds.

“There is no question that reducing the board to a fulltime district manager and one part-time individual will limit the board’s ability to perform their city-charter mandated functions,” said Marshall. “These boards help us to perfect democracy by bringing City Hall to neighborhoods directly affected by proposals that affect land use, city services, parks and a multitude of other issues.”

While the funding reductions are being necessitated by the economic crisis, there was also a feeling among some board members and district managers the cuts are part of an ongoing effort to reduce the board’s roles before eventually eliminating them all together.

Betty Braton, chair of CB 10, said there are “two undercurrents” to the decision to cut funds, and Frank Gulluscio, district manager of CB 6, agreed that “Money aside, there is a mission there.” Patricia Dolan of the Queens Civic Congress later said, “This mayor, for reasons we will never understand, wants to undermine neighborhoods, not just in Queens, but around the city.”

The Council members on hand indicated they wouldn’t let the boards’ budget be cut without a fight. “It’s a horrible situation when we have to fight for something that makes sense,” said Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), adding that it is “embarrassing” that the Bloomberg administration keeps targeting the boards for cuts.

Ulrich vowed that there is “no way the mayor can balance the books… on the backs of community boards.” He called it “ridiculous that we have to fight for peanuts so that we can serve our communities.”

Vincent Arcuri, chairman of CB 5, likened board members to “tribal leaders” who have their finger on the pulse of the local community. “We are needed – we are one of the most basic forms of government in the United States,” he said.

Gulluscio called the current funding levels “bare bones” and said budget cuts are impacting the board’s ability to perform duties such as community outreach, since there often isn’t money for necessities such as printing and postage. He noted that the Bloomberg administration’s handling of the boards is not consistent with a letter sent out by the head of the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, Nazli Parvizi.

“Community Boards provide New Yorkers with a voice and the ability to be increasingly helpful and productive in their neighborhoods,” wrote Parvizi. “Whether advising on unprecedented land use reforms or fighting for crucial social services, Community Board members work to strengthen and celebrate this great city.” She goes on to note that the Bloomberg administration“ has long recognized the value of community boards as local experts within the larger structure of city government.”

Formerly known as “Community Planning Boards” and “Little City Halls,” the boards were strengthened when the 1975 City Charter was adopted, giving boards roles in neighborhood land use, preparation of the capital and expense budget and delivery of local city services. The role of the boards was reaffirmed in the 1989 charter. Each board has up to 50 members who serve staggered terms of two years on a volunteer basis.

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