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Budget fears dominate Liu’s first Town Hall

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City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) held his first Town Hall meeting Tuesday and told an audience of Flushing residents that he wanted to hear about their problems. The men and women had no difficulty responding.

For nearly two hours, a group of more than 100 converged on the Flushing Library and probed the councilman on how he could help them.

While the questions ran the gambit, almost all of those who spoke were preoccupied with the planned cuts to the city budget. In particular, residents were concerned about how the fiscal budget would affect education and sanitation in Flushing.

“I think many people come to the area because of the reputation of our schools,” said Michelle Fratti, superintendent of School District 25, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point and parts of Fresh Meadows. “We are going to lose the bedrock of the community. Anyone who can will choose to leave.”

The district, which has been ranked the third best in the city, is facing a $7 million cut. Fratti said that getting rid of the local school board, which has been suggested as part of the proposals to overhaul how the city’s schools are run, would not solve the problem since the staff has an annual budget of less than $1 million.

Liu sympathized with Fratti and the pleas of several other parents. But he said it was imperative to find other sources of funding in order to keep the school district’s budget intact.

“Short of raising taxes significantly, there are only a few things we can do,” he said.

Liu spoke about the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. A court decision last year in favor of the campaign ruled the state’s funding of public schools is unconstitutional because money had not been distributed equally to the five largest cities, including New York, for 20 years.

Liu said the decision insured the city nearly an additional $400 million for schools. But Gov. George Pataki is appealing the decision, and Liu urged the audience to write letters to Pataki asking him to drop the appeal.

While those who talked about education wanted to make sure a good school board remained strong, those who spoke about sanitation worried that an already bad situation would get worse.

“In the mayor’s preliminary budget, sanitation services will be decimated,” Liu told the audience.

Liu said Bloomberg proposed changing daily garbage pickups to baseline pickups of only twice a week.

If the budget cuts stand, “Flushing will be choked with garbage,” Liu said.

The freshman councilman said he has authored or sponsored 47 separate bills in the City Council, including six that directly affect sanitation. One bill requires that residents use plastic lining in garbage cans, another mandates that residents put their trash cans back in their homes within 10 hours after they have been emptied, and a third increases penalties for residents who dump their trash in public garbage.

The bills are currently awaiting public hearings.

Richard Jannaccio, president of the West Flushing Civic Association, asked Liu about businesses in downtown Flushing that improperly dispose of their garbage.

“Do you have any [bills] that deal with the merchants’ abuse of disposing garbage?” Jannaccio asked.

Liu responded that he thought the merchants’ handling of garbage was a question of enforcement.

Liu promised he would act on the residents’ concerns.

“Over the next few months, you will see concrete results, albeit small results,” he said. “In three months we will have another town hall meeting. You can hold me to that.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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