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Weprin tells borough residents to tighten belts

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City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee, warned members of the Queens Civic Congress that rough times are ahead for the borough because of the looming $4.8 billion gap in the city’s budget.

At a special meeting Monday night, Weprin touched on a number of subjects: which programs will be hit hardest, what caused the city’s deficit and how to alleviate some of the budget crunch. The city is facing a $4.8 billion budget shortfall in the upcoming year and the mayor has made suggestions on cuts. It is now up to the Council to approve the budget.

“There is a lot of optimism we can do some things with the budget, but we have to be concerned for the worst,” Weprin said. “We also have to be worried about next year because there is an expected $4 billion deficit if the economy does not turn around.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg submitted his budget proposal Feb. 13 and it must be passed by June 5. The Finance Committee is looking over the budget to see where it agrees with the mayor and where it disagrees.

The mayor’s budget, Weprin told the crowd of 25 Civic Congress members, calls for $1.8 billion in agency cuts, $1.5 billion in deficit financing, $800 million in state and federal aid and another $500 million in either layoffs or more cuts.

The total shortfall is an “iffy number because we do not know the exact amount of the deficit,” he said. “We think $4 billion. The mayor thinks it will be around $4.8 billion.”

Under the proposed $1.8 billion cut to services, Weprin said the “most vulnerable people will be hurt.” The mayor’s budget blueprint calls for cuts in day care, seniors, after-school programs and libraries.

“We are still at an early stage, but some of our proposed cuts will not have a direct effect on seniors and kids,” Weprin said.

One of the main causes of the shortfall, Weprin pointed out, was the loss of many high-paying jobs because of the downturn in the economy and the Sept. 11 attack, which took a toll on the city’s tax revenue. The loss of downtown businesses, Weprin told the congress, also played a significant role in the budget squeeze.

Some of the suggestions Weprin threw out to the civic congress included raising the fines for parking tickets and increasing the tax on cigarettes as well as on all types of alcohol.

When the group’s secretary, Seymour Schwartz, asked about funds allocated to each councilman for distribution in his community, Weprin told the group discretionary funds will still be given to council members, but the amount will be cut.

“We will still get money for our programs,” he said. “But we are more concerned we will not be able to restore all of the mayor’s cuts.”

The city needs to get a “handle on the School Construction Authority,” Weprin said in response to a man who cited a report stating developer Donald Trump can build for $230 per square foot while it costs the SCA $650 per square foot to build a new school.

“The SCA has had remarkable cost overruns,” said Weprin, who suggested having the Office of Design and Construction take it over.

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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