Thursday, February 17, 2011

Forest Park Senior Center in Danger

By Eric Yun

Forest Park Senior Center, which has been a staple in Woodhaven for 31 years, is facing a budget shortfall that may lead to closing the center this July, said Executive Director Donna Marie Caltabiano.

“To survive a whole year without funding is not going to happen,” Caltabiano said. Forest Park Senior Center survives solely through discretionary funding, and as the state and city continue to cut services to bridge their budget deficits, senior centers like Caltabiano’s are in a perilous situation.

Last year, after a contentious state budget fight, Governor David Paterson vetoed the legislature’s member items last July. This left Caltabiano, who depends on funds from Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven) and Senator Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), with a significant amount of her funds missing for this year.

And the city funds are beginning to decrease as well. Caltabiano said the Borough President’s office has indicated they could not fund the center, and discretionary funds from City Council Members like Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) have decreased.
The center was originally founded by the late Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio, and he made sure he got the necessary funds, Caltabiano said. Now, she feels the center has been neglected.

“We’ve been a viable organization for 31 years, but now we feel slighted. We’re being let down by our elected officials,” Caltabiano said.

The state legislators understand Forest Park Senior Center’s troubles and is doing what they can to help.

“We’re fighting for member items,” said Miller, who replaced Seminerio in 2009. “Seniors are important to me, and I don’t want any centers closing.”

Member items, sometimes derided as pork spending, are critical to the district, Miller said. “They fund our senior centers, our after school programs, our veterans and other community improvements,” he continued.

Miller is also fighting to have Title 20 money—discretionary funds given to New York City historically used for senior centers and initiatives—remain dedicated to seniors. Governor Andrew Cuomo has hinted that Title 20 money would not fund seniors this year, Miller said.

In the State Senate, Addabbo will be fighting alongside Miller for member items and Title 20 money.

“I share [Donna Marie Caltabiano’s] con- cern. If we’re not given the opportunity to get member items to centers that need it, not only Donna’s but other centers are in danger,” Addabbo said.

There are several ways Addabbo says can be used to fund senior centers, like the one at Forest Park, without raising taxes and fees for the middle class. First, Addabbo said the state finance department has done a poor job getting allocated funds sent to the center.

According to Caltabiano, the $65,000 the senior center was allocated in last year’s budget still hasn’t arrived.

Another proposal from Addabbo is to aggressively collect money owed to the state in the form of back taxes, liens and violations. Addabbo said there are “hundreds of millions, maybe billions” owed to the state, and at least aggressively collecting the principal could help the budget.

“Our seniors have seen centers closed, their meals cut and have not had their Social Security COLA [Cost of Living Adjustment] raised. How much more can we hurt them?” Addabbo asked.

Over the next few weeks, Miller and Addabbo promised to fight to get the funding they needed to help resident seniors and other community groups.

Forest Park Senior Center has faced budget problems before, but Caltabiano fears her center is in serious trouble. “This year feels like this is it,” she said.

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