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The announcement, issued last week, did not come as a surprise to union members and borough elected officials opposed to the switch since 125 workers in the state Health Department had been scheduled to move from the Gertz building at Union Hall and Jamaica amid rumors of more transfers. Still, the officials vowed to step up their pressure on Gov. George Pataki to reconsider the current plan."The closing of this office is a significant blow to our borough on a variety of levels," Borough President Helen Marshall wrote in a recent letter to Pataki. Like other Queens officials, she said the move of the workers, who process claims for Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income, would hurt efforts to revitalize downtown Jamaica. Many Queens leaders contend the transfer is intended to rebuild Lower Manhattan but have said the effort should not come at the borough's expense. Gertz employees spend money at shops and restaurants in Jamaica, and the presence of government activity is believed by area business groups to be a precursor to attracting private investment.A spokesman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance said, however, that the impetus for the move was cost, not the desire to rebuild Lower Manhattan."It's a simple matter of economics," Michael Hays said. "It's not a political issue."Hays said his agency had a diminishing work force and case load and no longer needed offices in both Jamaica and Lower Manhattan. With the Gertz Plaza lease up in October, he said a consolidation would save the state $900,000. "To renew the lease would have been a waste of taxpayer money."During a meeting Marshall held Feb. 23 at Borough Hall with union officials, employees and representatives of elected officials, she disputed the costs of the move. Her office has calculated that the Manhattan rent will be $29.50 per square foot, compared to $10.50 per square foot at the Gertz office, which Marshall said recently underwent a $4 million renovation.In past protests against the move, employees have complained about longer commutes to Manhattan, both for themselves and their disabled clients. The workers can transfer to other state jobs if they so desire, according to an internal agency memo sent out last week. The time frame for the move is still being determined, Hays said.The Health Department workers, about 120 in all, began moving this week to Lower Manhattan, with the process scheduled to be completed by March 21, a spokeswoman for the State Office of General Services said. In announcing the transfer last July, Pataki said, "as we continue to encourage businesses large and small to stay or locate in Lower Manhattan, our commitment to move state offices downtown makes it clear that New York state is leading by example."Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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