The city’s annual budgetary dance is over — and the eight Brooklyn firehouses that Mayor Bloomberg threatened to close didn’t flame out after all.
Firehouses expected to be shuttered in Dyker Heights, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg and Coney Island — making up 40 percent of the proposed 20 citywide closures — were left unscathed and more than 4,000 city teachers kept their jobs when the music stopped on June 24 and Bloomberg and the Council finalized the city’s $66-billion budget.
“I’m ecstatic,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, which was fighting to keep Engine 284 on 79th Street and 11th Avenue. “The first priority of this city is to ensure the safety of its citizens, so this was a wise decision. This engine company plays an integral part in the safety and security of Dyker Heights and the neighborhoods that surround it.”
The annual budget battle is a kabuki dance that typically features a mayor intent on cutting vital services only to allow himself and Council leaders to claim credit when those services are “restored” in the final agreement.
But before the agreements are reached, the public plays a supporting role in the form of protesting citizens. This time around, at least, an actor joined the drama, as “Boardwalk Empire” star and former firefighter Steve Buscemi spoke at two firehouse rallies, one in Brooklyn Heights, the other in his own neighborhood of Park Slope, last month.
On Monday, Buscemi said he was satisfied with this drama’s happy ending.
“I am grateful to the mayor for listening to the people,” he said.
But not everybody was celebrating when the budget was finalized Friday. Firehouses may have been saved, but several other city agencies were whacked by the budget ax, including:
• More than 1,000 city workers will be laid off from the Parks Department, Department of Transportation, Health and Hospitals Corporation and Administration of Children’s services.
• The Brooklyn Public library’s six day schedule will now be reduced to five days.
• The Department of Education will not be allowed to replace retiring teachers.
• After-school programs will be reduced.
• Teachers will lose their paid sabbaticals.
Councilman Lew Fidler (D-Marine Park), who was part of the budget negotiating team, doesn’t like the annual dance.
“It’s been played every year since I’ve been here and will probably continue long after I’m gone, but this time [the budget process] wasn’t a game,” said Fidler, “Just about everybody lost a little bit, but I guess that’s better than some losing a lot and others being left totally devastated.”
Fidler said cuts to federal and state aid led to the city’s budget shortfall — an impact that was lessoned when the council dipped into the city’s $500 million reserves fund. But even that cash well will dry up in time, he explained.
“We’re running out of our savings because we’re continually spending it down,” he said. “There will come a time that there’s no money left in the piggy bank and the cuts will be absolutely devastating.”
— with Kate Briquelet