Queens residents need to brace themselves for the hit they will take as most city agencies and programs come under the knife in Mayor Michael Bloombergs attempt to alleviate the citys budget deficit.
In an effort to account for the projected budget shortfall of $4.6 billion in the 2003 budget, the mayor has called for cuts in the Police Department, Fire Department, the city library system, Board of Education, senior citizen programs and the city recycling programs.
In his two-hour budget address Feb. 13, Bloomberg presented the preliminary $41.4 billion city budget. The mayor said the budget closes the deficit in a fiscally prudent manner without laying off city workers or raising taxes. The cuts were necessary in light of the slowing economy in both the city and the nation before the Sept. 11 attacks delivered the knock-out punch.
The two city agencies most wounded by the assault on the World Trade Center, the police and fire departments, will not be spared the pain of cost-saving measures.
Bloomberg said the Police Department was budgeted for 40,170 uniformed officers, but due to retirements it has fewer than 39,000 officers on the job today. He said in 2003 the force would be lowered by 1,600 police officers through attrition.
The Fire Department, Bloomberg said, would get an additional 73 firefighters, but faces a $60 million slashing of its budget.
We must now meet the challenge of this new fiscal reality, Bloomberg said. We must work together and find ways to balance our budget as required by law.
The City Council will hold budget hearings to examine the mayors budget in March and will vote on it some time in May. The budget has to be passed by June 5. Some of the proposed cuts could be traded for others during the bargaining process between the council and the mayor.
Regardless, the repercussions of the cuts to city agencies will reverberate throughout the borough as Queens neighborhoods and its residents have to deal with an overall 20 percent cut in city funding.
I am particularly concerned about the $1.8 billion cuts to city agencies, said City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), chairman of the powerful Finance Committee. I am concerned that the most vulnerable senior citizens and children will get hurt.
The Queens library systems budget will be reduced by $10.6 million. The decline in funding will force many of the boroughs libraries to shutter completely on the weekends and have limited hours during the week.
Cuts will leave only eight to 10 branches with any weekend hours, and the remaining 50 or so will be open for only six hours a day during the week.
The Board of Education capital budget was slashed by 20 percent, which will severely alter the educational landscape of Queens. The majority of the scheduled school construction that would have put a dent into the boroughs severe overcrowding will not be built any time soon.
Students will also feel the pinch as 7 percent, or $354 million of the Board of Eds budget, will also be trimmed. The decrease in funding will directly affect educational programs. Public school teachers have been without a contract since November 2000 and any prospect for the salary hikes they have been seeking seems dim.
Deficit reductions will force senior citizen centers and organizations to slash many of their programs as well as the transportation they provide to the elderly.
The scheduled $26 million in cuts to the citys senior services could eliminate the Sixth Meal Program originally sponsored by former City Council Speaker Peter Vallone which provides a Saturday meal to elderly in need
Suspension of the citys recycling program has drawn some of the most vocal criticism. Bloomberg claims the plastic, glass and metal recycling program is not cost-effective and should be scrapped. Only the recycling of paper would continue.
Now that the mayor has laid out his plans, the City Council will huddle and determine where the mayor went too far or not far enough. Then come the deals between the mayor and the Council, which will be followed by the Councils ratification of the budget by June 5.
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.
©2002 Community News Group
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