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Borough officials disagree with mayor on fiscal woes

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Borough officials were skeptical about Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s upbeat forecast for the city’s financial future following his testimony in front of a state board on the city’s fiscal situation.

Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) disagreed with the mayor’s budgetary assessment last Thursday in front of the New York State Financial Control Board, where Bloomberg told the group he believes the worst days for the city are in the past.

“I don’t think we can say we’re out of this fiscal crisis,” said Weprin, chairman of the City Council’s powerful Finance Committee. “A lot of his positive talk has to do with his re-election strategy.”

Bloomberg traveled to Albany last week to explain how the city balanced its budget despite a $6.4 billion budget gap for fiscal year 2004, which began in July. The mayor told the board the city was able to eliminate its debt through a combination of tax hikes, service cuts, employee layoffs and emergency aid packages from the state and federal governments.

The city, however, still faces a $2.8 billion budget deficit for next year, Weprin said. Bloomberg said in his testimony that the city can deal with that level of debt.

“Even though the fiscal ’05 budget gap is serious, I believe it is manageable,” the mayor said.

Dan Andrews, spokesman for Borough President Helen Marshall, acknowledged Bloomberg has had to make some tough decisions, but he said Marshall would not tolerate additional service cuts or funding decreases for building schools for the next fiscal year.

Bloomberg made no mention of specific service or employee cuts for the next fiscal year during his testimony.

The likelihood of such cuts will depend on the size of the budget gap and whether Wall Street and other tax revenue sources bounce back from poor showings during the past two years, Bloomberg said.

But Weprin said next year’s budget deficit could force the mayor and City Council to make potentially tougher decisions than those made this year because of the extreme measures the city already has gone through to close the nearly $7 billion budget deficit.

He said the city will have to save money by cutting administrative costs, streamlining city services and collecting taxes on delinquent commercial properties by using existing tax laws. Weprin said the mayor again will try to gain concessions from city workers and their unions to decrease the budget deficit.

“Cuts on top of cuts are more significant. And we do not want any more tax increases,” he said. “That limits our efforts.”

Bloomberg told the Financial Control Board that during the past year, New York City has reduced spending by $3.1 billion, increased revenue by $2.7 billion, created a $1.3 billion surplus that will be used to pare the fiscal 2005 budget deficit and lowered the number of city employees by 17,000.

He also said a healthy Wall Street and scheduled Republican National Convention next September could bring additional revenues to the city and shrink next year’s estimated budget deficit.

Marshall, who met with Bloomberg July 30 before he testified, told him that Queens still needs more money to improve services for all its residents, Andrews said. During the meeting, she informed the mayor that despite his responsible handling of the budget crisis Queens still lags behind the other boroughs in getting appropriate funds for education and other city services, Andrews said.

“She told him that we still want our fair share,” Andrews said. “We will continue to fight for that.”

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

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