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Mayor’s budget cuts leaves borough in economic bind

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Queens residents have to wait to find out whether they will get any relief from the mayor’s proposed cuts to schools, libraries, cultural institutions, after-school and senior programs.

Last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg issued his primary city budget and did not implement many of the City Council’s suggested changes to his preliminary budget, which was unveiled in February.

“His budget plan did not give us anything,” said City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). “We had a problem with his cuts to education, the Department of Aging, after-school programs, libraries. The only thing he put back in was a $10.5 million piece for some after-school activities.”

Weprin, who is chairman of the Council’s Finance Committee, said the mayor’s budget cuts to agencies and specific programs would hit the borough very hard.

Bloomberg, who unveiled his executive budget April 17, called for $1.8 billion in expense cuts and reductions, $800 in federal and state aid, $500 million in savings from city pensions and benefit reductions from unions and $1.5 billion in borrowing.

The city, which by law has to have a balanced budget, faces a severe budget gap for fiscal year 2003 because of the effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the already slowing economy. In order to balance the budget, the mayor and the City Council need to figure out ways to trim $4.8 billion

The budget, Bloomberg said, eliminates the deficit without layoffs and new taxes except for a tax on cigarettes. He said the new budget is similar to his preliminary budget, but it also includes some of the Council’s changes.

“A wide spectrum of the city responded favorably to our preliminary budget,” Bloomberg said. “The City Council and other elected officials exhibited a deep historical understanding of the city’s current financial difficulty.

“Budget monitors expressed some concerns, but agreed that we made difficult albeit necessary choices,” he said. “Credit rating agencies maintained our credit rating and applauded our reasonable methods to return the city to fiscal stability.”

But if the city does not receive the necessary funds from federal and state governments, Bloomberg also offered up a contingency plan. The plan would cut $76 million from the Police Department by eliminating 800 civilian jobs and delay the hiring of the 2002 recruiting class to January 2003.

The plan would also cut $10 million from the Fire Department by eliminating eight engine companies, save $12.4 by reducing garbage pickup, shave $11.4 million from the Department of Aging, cut $27 million from the transportation budget and slash $12.2 million from the Parks Department.

Weprin said the negotiations between the Council and the mayor on the budget will begin soon and the Council plans to hold public meetings in May. The budget has to be passed by June 5.

“We are at the beginning of the negotiating process and there is a long way to go,” he said. But he said he was “very optimistic” the Council and mayor could come to an agreement.

He said if the Council and the mayor cannot agree on the budget, the legislative body will passes its own budget.

The mayor and Council differ on how to deal with the budget gap. The Council released its own version of the budget in early April and restored the majority of cuts Bloomberg had made in his preliminary budget. The Council also proposed floating a $5 billion bond to build new schools throughout the city.

In an effort to raise funds to balance the budget, the City Council proposed a tax on beer and wine to raise $30.5 million; a tax on absentee landlords — people who rent single-family homes but do not live in them — to raise $56 million; backing the mayor’s $1.45 tax on cigarettes to raise $250 million; creating a nickel-per-bottle disposal fee on non-carbonated drinks such as water to raise $37.5 million; and reinstallation of the commuter tax to raise $450 million.

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

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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