Thursday, May 20, 2010

Fire Company Cuts on Hold Pending State Budget

By Conor Greene

Residents will have to wait a little longer to find out if fire companies in their neighborhood will be forced to close as part of the city’s effort to close its budget gap.

Mayor Bloomberg has proposed closing 20 companies across the five boroughs in order to save $5.6 million to help reduce the $1.5 billion budget gap in the upcoming city budget. The closures were set to coincide with start of the new fiscal year on July 1. Since the law requires 45 days notice before any closures, the mayor was set to release the list of companies on the chopping block this past Monday.

However, he instead announced that he is waiting until the state completes its budget, which is already seven weeks late. “We don’t have a budget yet, and until then, there’s no reason to do anything,” he said. “There is a requirement of 45 days notice before you close a company or firehouse and we will comply with the last.”

Mayor Bloomberg is hopeful that the financial situation will improve over the coming weeks, reducing the need for budget cuts. “I’d like to have another five or six weeks of tax revenues information, see how tax revenues are coming in,” he said. Still, he warned that some drastic cuts are inevitable. “The economy is doing somewhat better, but nobody thinks it’s going better fast enough to bail us out. We’re going to have to make some serious cuts.”

Last year, the mayor proposed closing 16 fire companies, but the cuts were avoided when City Council members used discretionary funds to restore the funding. Over the past few months, local officials led by Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) - who chairs the Fire and Public Safety Committee – have rallied against the cuts at fire companies believed to be on the chopping block, including Engine 271on Himrod Street and Engine 294 in Richmond Hill.

Following the mayor’s postponement on Monday, Crowley expressed hope that the cuts will be avoided again this year. “We cannot relax until our fire protection is secured. Our city’s taxpayers have spoken and they want our fire companies to remain open,” the councilwoman said. “We need to keep up the pressure and continue to let Mayor Bloomberg know that we have no room to compromise our safety.”

The mayor said the decisions will be based on the budgets crafted in City Hall and Albany. “We have to come and negotiate a budget with the City Council, which we will do. I’m confident that we will have an on time budget, and based on what that allows us to do, we will do and comply with the laws we have to comply with in order to do that.”

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