Facing a proposed budget cut of nearly $35,000, Community Board 1 member Chris Olechowski and District Manager Gerry Esposito joined more than 200 New Yorkers from community boards citywide at a City Hall rally this past Tuesday to protest Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision.
“We’re here because we’ve seen these cuts as a threat to community boards,” said Olechowski. “On a local level they’re the eyes and ears of the city and act as a go−between for public officials. We know the issues of our respective neighborhoods.”
Borough President Marty Markowitz and his colleagues in the other four boroughs led the rally, emphasizing the important role that community boards play in the city’s civic life and democratic processes. Brooklyn is projected to grow by 300,000 people over the next 10 years, which Markowitz said meant that there will be even more land use and variances applications for community boards to consider.
“We have a city in which the mayor is granted an unbelievable amount of power,” said Markowitz. “The community boards reflect the sensibilities of their communities and they temper the potential excesses that can come from putting so much power in the hands of one person, no matter who that person is.”
Currently, there are three staff employed in the CB 1 office (435 Graham Avenue), which conducts its operations on a yearly budget of $198,000. Unlike other city agencies, community boards have not had a budget increase in more than 18 years.
Esposito, who has previously clashed with Mayor Bloomberg over the proposed community board budgets, said that cuts of $35,000 would likely result in the loss of a full−time staff member.
The City Council is required by law to pass its $900 million budget package by June 30, but the current political turmoil in Albany regarding the control over the state Senate adds another variable to an already unpredictable negotiation. Several councilmembers said they were confident they would be able to restore the proposed cuts to community board budgets, but would not commit to a date when the budget would be decided.
The negotiations and political wrangling have a very real effect for staff members like Yoselis De La Cruz, CB 1’s secretary, who could lose her job later this year if the cuts stand. De La Cruz and her colleagues are closely paying attention to the budget process, and she strongly believes the Council will not end up reducing community board budgets.