The new $59.4 billion budget agreed upon by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council has good news and bad news for Brooklynites.
On the plus side, the budget preserves firehouses; the mayor’s original budget had slashed service at 16 of them citywide.
The budget also preserves six-days-a-week library service at branches of the Brooklyn Public Library that offered such hours. The original budget had cut back library service overall to five days, meaning that many Brooklynites would not have been able to access them outside of working hours.
And, the budget generally preserves funding for the borough’s community boards, which had been facing cuts amounting to about 17 percent of their yearly $200,000 allocation that could have severely impacted their ability to provide service for residents.
On the negative side, some taxes will be rising. The budget includes a .5 percent increase in sales tax, as well as the re-institution of sales tax on clothing costing more than $110. In addition, approximately 2,000 city jobs will be cut.
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile delivered the news of the budget in person to members of Community Board 10, gathered in the Shore Hill community room, 9000 Shore Road, for their June meeting.
Board members broke into applause when Gentile told them, “Except for a couple of thousand dollars, we’ve restored all the money to community boards.” Referencing the rally held last week on the steps of City Hall by community board supporters, Gentile told the group, “I think it worked.”
CB 2 District Manager Robert Perris said many community boards need a budget increase in order to most effectively fulfill their city charter mandate.
“However, we can probably get by with a total budget of around $190,000 net of rent,” he said.
As for library hours, Gentile, who is chair of the council’s Libraries subcommittee, noted that the $46.5 million restored to keep six-day-a-week service was “by far the largest restoration in the entire budget.”
Borough presidents also made out better under the compromise budget. Under the mayor’s proposal, Borough President Marty Markowitz would have seen his allocation slashed some 26 percent from $5.8 million in FY 2009 to $4.1 million for FY 2010. While the exact amount restored to Markowitz’s budget wasn’t confirmed at press time, City Councilmember Lew Fidler said it was considerable.
“We also restored most of his discretionary money for senior citizens,” Fidler added.
“I am very pleased that a large portion of the budget cuts faced by my office have been restored,” noted Markowitz in a statement. “However, the Brooklyn borough president’s office still faces significant cuts and, as the mayor pointed out, we may have to revisit the budget if the economy doesn’t show signs of improvement in the days and months ahead.”
The council also succeeded in restoring $300-$400 million in council money, some of which funds discretionary items within districts as well as boroughwide initiatives, Fidler said.
The council also restored funding through the end of 2009 for vouchers for day care that mainly benefited Brooklyn residents whose children attend yeshivas. This was applauded by City Councilmember Simcha Felder, who noted, “Poor families no longer face the immediate risk of being left without adequate childcare in the midst of this serious economic recession.”
Some cuts to other programs affecting children were also averted, said City Councilmember Bill de Blasio, who cited the restoration of $3 million in proposed cuts to child welfare personnel, as well as the restoration of funding for 125 subsidized child care classrooms citywide. “This recession has taken a very hard toll on New Yorkers with the least resources,” de Blasio stressed. “I am gratified that my colleagues and I successfully fought to restore cuts proposed by the administration that could have put even more strain on New Yorkers.”
One matter that remains undecided, said Fidler, is the fate of Bloomberg’s proposed $18 million cut for the city’s cultural institutions, including the New York Aquarium, the Brooklyn Museum, the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
“We (the mayor and City Council) came to a handshake about the budget, but there are a couple of open questions relating to stimulus money and until we have an answer we’re not sure about cultural institutions,” said Fidler. “If we’re allowed to use it in the way we want, cultural institutions will be restored.”
Fidler said that federal stimulus money comes through the state and Albany has to make the determination if the cultural institutions are eligible.
Also waiting on Albany are the proposed tax increases which must be approved by the state.