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Bloomberg budget throws boro into uncertain future

Mayor Michael Bloomberg outlined $600 million in budget cuts that will close the Queens Zoo, end weekend take-home meals for senior citizens and reduce the Fire Department’s civilian staff in his plan to close next year’s $3.8 billion budget gap.

Bloomberg, speaking during a presentation at City Hall Tuesday, also put forth a $1 billion contingency plan that would lay off 10,000 city workers and close more than 30 firehouses if legislators in Albany and union officials do not help him close the deficit.

“Nobody is in favor of these cuts, let’s start there,” Bloomberg said about the grim $44.5 billion budget. “The question is: the law requires us to balance the budget, compassion requires us to take care of the people in this city. The only issue is how you do it”

The mayor said the city Department of Parks and Recreation will eliminate subsidies to the Queens Wildlife Center and will not hire 1,155 part-time seasonal parks and playground workers in next year’s budget that begins July 1.

Bloomberg also said the Department for the Aging will stop serving weekend meals to 7,500 seniors and lay off 75 full-time and 119 part-time staff positions at the FDNY.

He said he plans to close 12 of 30 child health clinics and eliminate 864 paraprofessional positions and 767 school aides in the Department of Education under the $600 million in planned reductions. The Administration for Children’s Services will lay off 528 employees and close four care facilities.

“The challenges we face today, and the solutions we find, will define our city for generations to come,” Bloomberg said. “Times are tough, and we will find ways to stretch what resources we have.”

The mayor still faces a $3.8 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2004 despite the 18.5 percent property tax increase that passed in November. He said the city has already cut $3.2 billion from its budget and reduced the total number of city workers through both layoffs and attrition by 14,000.

Bloomberg said the city regularly receives $10 billion from Albany and $5 billion from the federal government for its budget. He said state law limits the city’s ability to plan its own budget and forces local officials to deal with legislators in Albany who have the power to raise all taxes but the city property tax.

Bloomberg next described the possible $1 billion in cuts as an “insurance policy” and said he hopes the state and municipal workers’ unions come through on a compromise to increase revenues to offset the city’s rising expenses. He said he is still open to the idea of a commuter tax or something similar under which all workers who come to the city pay for the services they use.

If no compromise is worked out with the state and unions, however, the mayor said he would have to eliminate the July 2003 Police Department class, decreasing the force to its lowest level since 1993.

Bloomberg also said he intends to lay off 846 Department of Sanitation workers under the contingency plan, which would hinder the collection of garbage. He also proposed eliminating all after- school educational programs and 109 employees at the Department of Homeless Services.

“In the end, it is Albany and the labor unions that we have to depend on,” Bloomberg said. “We have raised our own taxes, we have cut our own expenses, we have made city government more efficient — we continue to do all those things, but there is just a limit to how much this city can do.”

Reach reporter Alex Davidson by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156

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