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The Civic Scene: Queens Civic Congress testifies before Boro Board

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The New York City Charter makes it possible for the public to testify before the Queens Borough Board on the mayor’s Fiscal Year 2003 Preliminary Expense and Capital Budgets. The Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella organization of some 100 Queens civic associations, presented the consensus of what the citizens of Queens feel is necessary to maintain their quality of life.

The Queens Civic Congress would like a fair share of the city’s budget for education, youth, seniors, parks, libraries, additional building and housing inspectors, funding for traffic studies, for sign replacement, routine staffing of community police beats and funding to increase school maintenance.

The civics feel that any money obtained as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity must supplement — not replace — any current funding. In spite of what some leaders are saying, analyses of educational outcomes show that small classes and additional programs in music, sports and the arts are valuable.

The congress opposed cuts to youth and aging programs because seniors are often the glue which holds our communities together. Libraries are an important institution for our educated and technologically advanced society. Even if the threats to the libraries are corrected in June there will be many lost hours of use between now and then.

Recycling is important for our earth because we are using up resources and throwing away materials that can be reused. My feelings are that a society which cares about the Earth will care about people and other living things. It is also weird that we set the rates for water usage prior to the determination of how much money the Water Department will need.

The needs of the Buildings Department and zoning changes require a whole separate discussion.

The Queens Civic Congress has proposed several ways to save money. One way would be not to sell bonds to obtain an additional $1.5 billion for the budget. If we don’t sell bonds we can save $130 million in interest rates over the next 20 years.

There can be a modest personal income tax adjustment for multimillionaires to net $500 million. Reintroduction of bottle and can buyback centers rather than eliminating recycling and then having to get rid of these resources as trash can save another $100 million.

Reinstating the commuter tax — perhaps at a bit higher rate — could generate about $450 million a year.

Agencies can eliminate one or two high-ranking officials to save. If we obtain higher quality inspectors, pay them a higher salary and encourage them to enforce the building and zoning laws, we could not only have a better quality of life but obtain perhaps $1 billion from fines and land usage fees which people are not paying for now. The biggest complaints by homeowners are about illegal conversions and usages by some people which ruin the quality of life for their law-abiding neighbors. Actually imposing and collecting fines would be a start.

A strategic capital plan that requires projects to be well built on a specific timetable with real penalties for incompetence and cash rewards for builders who are ahead of schedule could probably save us $500 million.

This is what the Queens Civic Congress proposed to the Queens Borough Board which is composed of city council members and the borough president. Helen Marshall listened to everyone and asked questions which show she is well informed — a good start for a new administration.

Good and Bad News of the Week

The desire of people to be part of an ethnic group has created an interesting situation for our new Councilman David Weprin. His mother was born in Cuba as Sylvia Matz and she knows Spanish so well that she taught bilingual biology at Jamaica High School. Weprin doesn’t feel that his Jewish background should disqualify him as a member of the Black and Latino Caucus.

Well, the caucus just did welcome John Liu who is our first Asian-American councilman. It just might work because I believe that if Weprin joined the Black and Latino Caucus it would be the largest group in the Council. I guess the name of the game is alliances and with all the different groups in Queens politics should be interesting here for years to come. Just make sure you vote.

Reach columnist Bob Harris by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 140.

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