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Queens civic leaders blast city’s budget cuts

Gary Strong, director of the Queensborough Public Library, and representatives of some 30 other organizations and community boards pleaded with Queens members of the City Council Monday to undo Mayor Giuliani’s proposed funding cuts for next year.

Council Speaker Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) opened the hearing on the mayor’s 2002 executive budget by cautioning that he and the other Queens council members could shift allocations within the $39.5 billion budget but could not increase it.

“The changes have to be prudent. We will use our influence to challenge and restore the budget parameters that have been given to us so far,” he said.

Vallone, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor, also took the opportunity to jab Giuliani. He said that even after budgets have been agreed upon in recent years, the mayor has “refused to release the money” for six to eight months.

Joining Vallone on the dais at the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria in the early part of the hearing were council members Walter McCaffrey (D-Woodside), Mike Abel (R-Bayside), Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), Sheldon Leffler (D-Hollis) and Morton Povman (D-Forest Hills). Queens council representatives and community leaders cycled in and out of the four-hour session.

Strong testified that the Queens Public Library had its funding cut by $12.8 million in the 2002 budget. If that cut remains, Queens libraries would be forced to curtail their staff and hours, he said. Rather than operating for six or seven days, libraries could operate only four or five days a week, Strong said.

When Giuliani released his budget last month, he touted the allocations for the Board of Education and for the city’s cultural institutions and libraries.

The budget “provides the largest ever capital plan for cultural institutions and libraries,” the mayor’s office said at the time. It also boasted the “highest ever” share of the budget devoted to the Board of Education.

Queens community leaders have had time to review the intricacies of the mayor’s budget proposals and learn what the allocations mean for their programs.

Mary Ann Carey, the district manager of Community Board 9 in Richmond Hill, which covers School Boards 27 and 28, criticized the mayor’s plans to shift some of the Board of Education allocation over to privatizing failing schools.

The schools in Carey’s district are some of the most overcrowded in the city, she said, and she feared shuffling funds would make it harder to add seats.

Other community board leaders insisted on shifting money from police recruitment directly to police salaries, arguing that if officers were paid better, the city would not need such extensive recruiting efforts.

Robert Dryfoos, an attorney representing the New York Junior Tennis League, requested the return of $2.3 million for after-school arts and sports programs for Queens children.

Asked if Dryfoos expected his post-budgetary appeals to mean the return of funds, he answered promptly with a smile, “They have every year.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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