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Boro groups present budget goals to Marshall

Queens community board leaders, art and cultural center directors and civic group leaders were among the 172 individuals presenting their wish lists to Borough President Helen Marshall and the Budget Board at hearings Feb. 21 on the mayor’s preliminary city budget.

Under the New York City charter, the Queens Borough Board must hold hearings on the year’s preliminary budget, financial plan, capital budget and service needs of Queens.

New York City faces a $4.8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2003 and Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s budget has called for cuts in library funding, cultural institutions, senior programs, parks, and summer youth programs in addition to cuts at city agencies.

“Queens is prepared to make hard choices,” said Marshall. “However, they must not unfairly impact upon our county and quality of life.

“I know that Mayor Bloomberg and the members of the City Council share my commitment to our borough,” she said. “Together, we must shape a budget that meets the needs of our citizens within the constraints of sound fiscal policy.”

By and large, the 14 district managers of Queens’ community boards expressed fears about cuts to their budgets, but there were no reductions for community boards in the Bloomberg budget of $41 billion.

The district managers from Jamaica to Astoria to Bayside also asked for numerous and similar improvements for their communities, including better police staffing, upgrading precinct houses, road repairs, more and improved playgrounds, updated sewer systems, youth services, funds for tree pruning and stump removals, and more inspectors to keep illegal housing at a minimum.

“Community Boards cannot withstand any further budget cuts,” said Sally Martino-Fisher, district manager of CB 13, which covers the swath of Queens stretching from Glens Oaks through Queens village to Springfield Gardens. “It would certainly stymie the important work that this board does adhering to charter mandates, seeking community consensus and ensuring a local leadership voice in city government.”

Joseph Conely, CB 2 chairman, said the borough must pay attention to the sewer problems plaguing Long Island City. He said the system, one of the city’s oldest, needs to be corrected to end “flooding conditions and to ensure adequate and uninterrupted service.”

Illegal housing is rampant throughout the borough and community boards want action taken to stop the conversion of basements into apartments.

“We ask resources be allocated for additional building inspectors to address illegal conversion,” said Yvonne Reddick, district manager of CB 12, which covers Jamaica. “Resources need to be allocated to address the flooding condition in Community Board 12 in various areas.”

Queens Theatre in the Park, the Queens Botanical Gardens, Flushing Town Hall, Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, P.S. 1 and the Queens Council of the Arts were a few of the borough’s cultural centers to plead against reductions in their budgets.

Janet Schneider, executive director of the Cultural Institutions Group, said the mayor’s preliminary budget cut for the Department of Cultural Affairs totals $19.1 million, or 15 percent of its fiscal 2002 budget.

“Cultural institutions throughout the city are facing their worst financial crises in 30 years,” said Schneider. “We recognize that the city has suffered a tremendous economic blow. It has also suffered a tremendous spiritual blow. We believe cultural institutions are a critical component to recovery on both fronts.”

Robert Harris, a founder of the Queens Civic Congress, an umbrella organization of 100 civic groups, said that instead of cutting the borough president’s budget, the city must provide enough money to allow Queens Borough Hall to carry out its necessary functions.

“The top concern of the Queens civics in 2002 remains education,” he said. “Education in our borough offers an example of what can be done when teachers, parents and children work together. Overall education funding needs to continue at a level to ensure that our children receive the best education possible.”

The process now moves to the City Council, which has until June 5 to pass a new budget.

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

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