Tag Archives: budget

Despite 5 years of cuts, Queens Library retained all service hours and jobs

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Despite five consecutive years of budget cuts that eliminated more than $16 million in operating expenses, the Queens Library will begin a new chapter — with all jobs and service hours retained.

“Given the staggering cuts we were facing, to not have one library close, not one library reduce its hours, to keep libraries where they’re at, was a tremendous victory,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, who chairs the City Council’s committee on libraries.

The libraries’ budget was threatened with $26 million in reductions, which would have forced 18 of the borough’s 62 institutions to shut their doors. Thirty more would have had to close at least four days a week.

Rallies were held throughout the borough to prevent the city from closing the book on Queens libraries.

“We’re very, very grateful the council kept the libraries a priority,” said Joanne King, associate director of communications for the Queens Library. “We will stay open in every community and everyone in Queens should be very grateful for that.”

Six hundred staffers’ jobs were also saved with the restoration.

“I heard when [the budget] was announced there were workers literally in tears knowing their jobs had been saved,” said Van Bramer, who worked for the Queens Library before being elected. “That’s something I’m really proud of, that we saved jobs.”

Though the “doomsday budget” did not pass, the library still had $1.8 million slashed for this fiscal year, which began on July 1. The ongoing hiring freeze will also reduce staff. The library employs about 200 fewer staffers than four years ago.

Less staff means the library needs to get creative so no service is affected, King said.

To prevent further cuts, Van Bramer said libraries’ budgets can’t be radically reduced in early financial plans. Steep cuts to the preliminary and executive budget make restoring all the money more difficult and puts “libraries’ backs against the wall,” the councilmember said.

“We have to not start so far behind,” said Van Bramer, who added the council will look to restore funds as the economy improves. “What we’re going to need to do under a new mayor is not cut libraries to the bone in the preliminary budget.”

Balanced budget saves child care, libraries and fire companies

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of the mayor's office

Without raising the tax bar, education, child care, libraries and other city services will be spared – despite original concerns of heavy cuts – in the 2013 Fiscal Year budget, city officials announced Monday, June 25 attributing the balanced budget to several cost-saving methods.

“When times were better, the city set aside surplus revenue — and when the first storm clouds gathered in 2007, we began cutting budgets,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “These actions — and our work over the past decade to diversify the economy and make it less reliant on Wall Street — have allowed us avoid the severe service cuts that many other cities are facing.”

About $150 million will be added from the mayor’s May Executive Budget, which proposed a large child care cut, to the Administration for Children’s Services Child Care Program and the Department of Youth and Community Development Out-of-School Time program, ensuring child care stays well-funded in the City.

The funding is a major accomplishment for child care, said Gregory Brender, policy advisor for United Neighborhood Houses.

“It’s a big victory for child care,” he said. “Losing spots was terrifying to parents around the city.”

In addition, roughly 1,000 teachers will be added, it was announced, and several hundred teacher’s aide jobs will be spared.

Because of about $90 million going toward the library system, more than 600 Queens Library jobs will be saved, according to a statement from the Library. There will also be no cuts to hours, but there will be limited reductions to services, said Joanne King, Queens Library associate director of communications.

“Our advocates in City Hall have kept libraries a priority through the last several budgets,” she said. “We know the people of Queens will be very appreciative.”

Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, who chairs the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee, said the twenty fire houses saved from elimination was a relief to New Yorkers and they would continue to keep the city safe.

“We can all rest assured knowing that the people of the city of New York will be safe,” Crowley said. “Closing even one fire company would have reduced response times and people’s lives would have hung in the balance. So for me today it’s gratifying to know that’s one less worry.”

Although the budget is balanced and ahead of the June 30 deadline, the Mayor’s office acknowledged there will be a $2.5 billion budget gap for the 2014 fiscal year.

“We face a significant challenge again next year, but given the effective and fiscally responsible partnership we’ve had with the Council – and the leadership we know we can rely on from Speaker Christine Quinn – I’m confident we’ll meet any challenges that arise,” Bloomberg said.

Additional reporting by Billy Rennison

Mayor announces balanced budget; fire companies, libraries and child care saved

| brennison@queenscourier.com

With severe cuts to fire companies, child care and libraries looming, an on-time, balanced city budget was agreed upon with all services restored, the mayor announced.

“We produced an on-time, balanced budget that does not raise taxes and preserves central services we all rely on,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the press conference announcing the budget on Monday, June 25.

An agreement between the city council and mayor on the budget came well ahead of the June 30 deadline.

Council speaker Christine Quinn said the approximately $68.5 billion budget was “a statement of priorities.”

Twenty fire companies and more than 40,000 day care and after-school spots faced elimination in the preliminary budget. More than $26 million was scheduled to be cut from the library’s budget which would have forced 18 libraries in Queens to shut their doors.

Bloomberg said he was sure the final budget would have all the cuts restored.

“We’ve done it every year,” he said.

While the cuts were restored this time, it may be harder in next year’s budget, the mayor said. The 2014 fiscal year faces a $2.5 billion budget gap.



Queens firehouses in danger

| brennison@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Billy Rennison

Politicians, civic leaders and firefighters rallied recently in Queens to prevent 20 fire companies from going up in smoke.

Dozens gathered on Tuesday, May 29 outside Engine 294 in Richmond Hill, one the 20 fire companies that may close due to budget cuts, including students from nearby P.S. 273.

The children, brandishing signs, led the crowd in chants of, “Save our firehouse and you save me.”

This is the fourth consecutive year lack of funding has threatened to close firehouses. Twenty also faced the chopping block last year, but were saved in the final budget.

“We need to make sure that when a budget is passed in New York City, it is a budget that keeps our residents safe,” said Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley, chair of the Council’s Fire and Criminal Services Committee.

No official list has been released of the fire companies that may close, but last year’s list included four in Queens: Engine 294, Engine 328 in Rockaway, Ladder 128 in Sunnyside and in Engine 306 in Bayside.

“Hopefully, no companies close,” said an FDNY spokesperson. “Right now, it looks like it will go that way.”

The city’s budget will be finalized by the end of June.

If Engine 294 is eliminated, it would be the third time in its history it has closed.

The first closing lasted six years – from 1975 to 1981 – and the most recent was in 1991.

Two men were killed in a fire shortly after the closing in 1991.

“If [Engine 294] was here that day, those two men may still be alive,” Crowley said.

Though Engine 294 directly serves Richmond Hill and the surrounding communities of Woodhaven and Ozone Park, closing any companies affects every neighborhood in the city, said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

“If they close 20 fire companies it will affect every neighborhood in the city of New York, not just the ones they close them in, every neighborhood,” Cassidy said.

“If you take Engine 294 out of the equation, response times will rise for medical emergencies and fires.”

Engine companies also provide emergency medical attention, in addition to responding to fires.

“We’re playing with fire, and what happens when we play with fire. We get burned,” said Senator Joe Addabbo. “This is not a game we should be playing. We shouldn’t be playing with fire.”

New York City is ranked last in the number of firehouses per capita, said Eddie Boles of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association.

“This is our life we’re talking about,” said Maria Thomson, president of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. “This is life and death.”

Children rally to save Pomonok after-school program from shutting down

| sarahyu@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/photo by Sarah Yu

Children, parents and politicians rallied recently against the closing of after-school programs at the Pomonok Center at the Queens Community House.

The center offers a free after-school program for children from grades kindergarten to sixth that includes homework help, arts and crafts, fitness, character development and team-building games.

“I worry that without such a program in Pomonok, our youth will begin to fall behind academically and socially, which is something we as a community simply cannot afford,” said Assemblymember Michael Simanowitz.

The Pomonok Center is funded by the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development’s Out-of-School Time Program, which had its funding cut in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget.

“I call on the city to stop balancing the budget on the backs of our children and young families,” Simanowitz said.

According to Sheena Sukhraj, the youth services director for the Pomonok Center, they are currently collecting petitions and sending it out to the mayor and local officials.

“I think it’s a shame because the majority of our children come from Pomonok Houses which is a low- income housing development, so we know that the parents can’t afford after-school programming,” she said.

They only have six more weeks to fight to keep the after school programs running at the Pomonok Center.

“I’m very devastated because it is right now the only option that I have for child care for my son,” Kimberlee Farrell, a parent and educator said.

Farrell added that she’s always looking for options so that she is ready to face what might happen if their protests aren’t heard.

“I’m touched,” she said. “It takes major issues to bring it out in these communities, but you see from these children, six and seven years old, up to the adults — 50s, 60s 70-year old grandparents — all rallying together for what is right.”

Balanced budget means cuts to FDNY, after school

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Children’s classrooms will remain unaffected in Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 11th executive budget — but kids may have nowhere to go after the final bell rings.

The $68.7 million balanced budget includes no tax increases, but presents deep cuts to after-school programs, day care and fire companies while retaining more than 2,500 teacher positions the mayor proposed eliminating in his preliminary plan.

“Our budget won’t impose any new taxes on New Yorkers, maintains the strength of the NYPD and continues our strong support for public schools,” said Bloomberg on Thursday, May 3.

In Bloomberg’s first fiscal presentation in February, more than 2,500 teacher jobs were to be eliminated through attrition.
“We saved nearly 2,600 classroom teachers, and I am thrilled that the Department of Education has been funded at a level that avoids any further reduction in teachers,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

While teachers were saved, child care and fire companies face the ax.

United Neighborhood Houses (UNH) called Bloomberg’s “lack of commitment” to children “nothing short of disgraceful.”

More than 40,000 children will be without day care and after-school programs if the budget cuts are not restored, UNH said.

Children’s Services budget was cut by $66 million.

Twenty fire companies will also close under Bloomberg’s plan.

The budget will be reviewed during the City Council’s hearings.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the City Council to negotiate a budget that will not undermine our children, families and seniors,” Koslowitz said. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.

‘Doomsday budget’ may slash libraries

| brennison@queenscourier.com

A job opening in Manhattan required a resume to be submitted online, but the woman applying had no computer, no resume and no clue where to begin.

Seeking help, she visited her local Queens Library branch, where a job search librarian helped her write the resume and submit it online.
Joanne King, the library’s associate director of communications, said this is just one of the millions of stories of residents utilizing the libraries’ free resources — a move that may prove impossible next year.

More than $26 million is scheduled to be cut from the library’s budget — a 31 percent decrease — if Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s executive budget is passed.

“People in Queens need and use their libraries. Libraries make a huge impact on the educational and economic landscape,” said Queens Library President and CEO Thomas Galante.

This would be the fifth consecutive year library funds decreased.

“These threatened cuts must be restored to enable libraries to stay open with full services and programs for the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come through their doors,” said Borough President Helen Marshall at a Tuesday, May 8 rally to save the library.

The city budget must still go through Council hearings before it is finalized ahead of the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
Steep losses were avoided last year when more than $23 million of a proposed $25 million budget reduction were restored, though the libraries suffered a midyear cut of $1.66 million, King said.

If the “doomsday budget” passes, 18 of the borough’s 62 libraries may have to shut their doors with 30 more being closed at least four days each week. Only one branch — Jamaica — would remain open on Saturdays and none on Sunday.

Depite the “yearly dance” with proposed cuts, the borough cannot grow tired of the fight, said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, chair of the Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs and Libraries.

“It is too important not to keep fighting for libraries, to keep fighting for the kid who needs them after school, for the people out of work right no who need the library to be open.”

There is an online petition residents can sign at savequeenslibrary.org.

More than 600 employees’ jobs may be lost, according to the library, which is already down 200 staffers from four years ago.

The reduction in staff is the major reason many libraries will struggle to keep their doors open, King said.

“We’re the main information provider for the borough, but if the buildings are closed, we can’t help them.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg reveals revised city budget

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Mayor Michael Bloomberg today revealed a revised balanced budget that will retain nearly 2,000 teacher positions that he proposed eliminating in his preliminary plan.

The $68.7 million budget includes no tax increases.

“Our budget won’t impose any new taxes on New Yorkers, maintains the strength of the NYPD and continues our strong support for public schools,” said Bloomberg.

Under the preliminary budget, released in February, 1,800 teachers would have been lost through attrition.

The budget will be balanced partly in thanks to a $466 million settlement with Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) from the alleged CityTime scandal.

The city experienced growth in tax revenue as the economy continues a gradual recovery, the mayor said.

“Our efforts in the tech, TV and film, tourism and higher education sectors are producing results, with private employment now at its highest level ever in the city, exceeding the record set back in 1969, and we expect this growth in private sector jobs to continue,” Bloomberg said.

The new forecast included an increase of $185 million in expenditures and a $122 million decrease in revenue from the preliminary budget

The budget will now go through council hearings. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.


Cuomo, Legislature reach deal on balanced, on-time state budget

| brennison@queenscourier.com


For the second straight year, state politicians have reached an agreement on an on-time balanced budget.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the $132.6 billion budget in a joint statement with Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Tuesday, March 27.

“For the second straight year, New York State has worked and created a balanced budget based on fiscal responsibility, job creation, government efficiency and the premise that we must invest in our communities,” Cuomo said.

This is the second consecutive year with an overall cut in spending, the first time this has happened in the last 30 year, the governor’s office said.

The Legislature is expected to pass the budget by Friday, two days before the state’s fiscal year begins on Sunday, April 1.

Skelos said that Albany has “turned the corner” and “puts [the Legislature] in a position to deliver another early budget that controls spending and taxes.”

Last year’s budget was the first on-time spending plan since 2006.

“This budget includes much needed increases in education spending, including an increase in base aid for community colleges for the first time in five years, and vital restorations to programs that protect our state’s neediest citizens,” said Silver.

The budget also established the New York Works Task Force which will “invest billions of dollars to rebuild the state’s roads, bridges, parks and other infrastructure and create tens of thousands of jobs.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the budget as the best for the city in a decade.

“Finally, an almost unprecedented accomplishment: it appears that the budget includes no new unfunded mandates for New York City. We are hopeful this commitment to fiscal responsibility continues throughout the rest of the legislative session,” the mayor said.

Bloomberg also praised Cuomo’s “bold leadership in “making Albany work for the people – and for the City of New York.”

Other budget highlights include:

– Maintaining a 2 percent growth in year to year state spending.

– An $805 million increase in education spending to approximately $20.4 billion.

– A 5 percent increase in June to the welfare grant followed by another 5 percent in October.

– An additional $31.3 million in support for community colleges.

– Providing $14.3 million for urban and rural community-based organizations that help create home ownership opportunities and assist with the development and management of affordable rental housing.

– Supplying $9 million for the continuation of mortgage foreclosure counseling services.


Budget may force senior centers to close

| mchan@queenscourier.com


Budget slashes may force closure upon the Korean-American Senior Center, leaving hundreds of hungry, homebound Asian seniors in Queens without a hot meal.

The Corona-based senior center — along with five others in the borough — is up on the chopping block if Borough President Helen Marshall is not able to restore $1.6 million in discretionary funding to keep them up and running.

Marshall and the Borough Board — made up of the borough president, district council members and chairs of each of the borough’s 14 community boards — approved a $258.6 million budget priorities package on March 13.

“This priorities package, which will now be sent to Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council, is meant to build our borough,” Marshall said.

Heading the top of the list is restoring funds to save the Forest Park Senior Center, the Kew Gardens Senior Center, SAGE/Queens Senior Center, Korean-American Senior Center, Bell Park Senior Center and LeFrak Senior Center, said a spokesperson for the borough president.

“We need the funding. Without it, our center would be in jeopardy, and without the center, the seniors’ lives would be very hopeless,” said Helen Ahn, director of the Korean-American Senior Center in Corona. “It really worries me.”

Ahn said her center is currently supported by the borough president’s discretionary funds, although it has already seen up to 50 percent in cuts. The Korean-American Senior Center used to receive $215,000 in funds, but now only gets about $110,000, she said.

“Our senior center is the only one — the only unique homebound program for Chinese and Korean homebound seniors in Queens. If we cannot sustain the senior center programs, we don’t have any place to prepare these meals,” said Ahn, who added that the mobile meal program reaches close to 100 homes.

The budget cuts also mean the Forest Park Senior Center will face the ax once more, after it narrowly escaped closure last year, receiving $120,000 in funding — half from the City Council and the other half from the borough president — at the last minute.

“Every year at this time, I feel like I’m Chicken Little,” said Donna Caltabiano, the center’s executive director. “If it wasn’t for the borough president and Councilmember Eric Ulrich, we wouldn’t be open this year, and we won’t be open next year if they don’t help us again. We need them even more than ever.”

Caltabiano said the center — which has been in existence since 1979 — is home to the 40 to 45 seniors who use the center daily.

“They will not go to another place. They will not. This is their home,” she said.

Ulrich said he would try and pull through for the center again this year.

“This is déjà vu all over again. Every year, we seem to be in the same predicament,” he said. “The Forest Park Senior Center does a wonderful job of providing services to the senior population in Woodhaven and Forest Park. I’ll do everything I can to fight and keep it open.”

Meanwhile, Caltabiano said she and the seniors can only cross their fingers and hope for the best.

“I’m hoping for another miracle. I’m hoping for Christmas in June,” she said.


Queens hotel fire rescue

| jlane@queenscourier.com

Graphic by Jay Lane

Queens hotel fire rescue

Firefighters fought their way through heavy smoke and shooting flames yesterday to rescue a man with no pulse from a burning Queens motel and bring him back to life. The victim was in a third-floor room at the Conduit Motor Inn in South Ozone Park at around 4 p.m. when members of Engine 302 and Ladder 155 arrived on scene. Firefighter John Summerville crawled into the room to stay beneath the smoke. “I found him face down by the window. The situation was like an inferno,” Summerville said. After reaching the victim, described as being in his 40s, Summerville pulled him out and put him in an ambulance, where another member of Engine 302 began performing CPR and got a pulse back. Read More: New York Post

Cuomo Turns His Budget Focus To Public Pensions, Education System

Governor Andrew Cuomo is getting ready to reveal his budget proposal for the new fiscal year on Tuesday. Although the governor would not share many details of the expected $130 billion plan in advance, he touted on Monday a brighter picture looking forward. “The good work that we did last year is actually going to pay dividends this year,” said Cuomo. “So, from just a budget point of view, where we had a true crisis last year, we had a $10 billion deficit, we had chaos. We have a much better budget situation on the numbers.” “We got a good start last year, moving in a better and a new direction. Took about a 90-degree turn,” said Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco of Schenectady. Read More: NY1

Astoria Houses kids now have ‘Promise’

More than 1,600 underprivileged children have been “granted” the opportunity to pursue their dreams. Local elected officials and community leaders gathered on January 13 to announce that a $500,000 Promise Neighborhood planning grant from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) had been procured for the children of the Astoria Houses. Read More: Queens Courier

Druggists’ cure for anxiety: a pistol

Your friendly neighborhood pharmacist will soon be locked and loaded. Rattled druggists from Long Island to the city are increasingly applying for gun permits following a spate of fatal robberies by armed thugs desperate to score highly addictive painkillers. “I’m applying for a pistol permit because of this,’’ said Todd Svec, 48, a pharmacist and owner of the Arlo Drug store in Massapequa Park, LI. “I will feel safer if I have one.’’  Svec’s wife is also a pharmacist at the store — and his four daughters work there. He pointed out that Charlie’s Family Pharmacy in Seaford, LI, where on New Year’s Eve a pill-popping ex-con attempted a stickup that left the thug and an off-duty federal agent dead “is just two miles from here.”  Read More: New York Post

Baby born on PATH train between NJ & NYC

Next stop, maternity ward! A woman went into labor on a New York-bound PATH train yesterday, and her baby took the express track — he was born before the train even pulled in to its Manhattan terminal. When Rabita Sarkar and her husband, Aditya Saurabh, left their Harrison, NJ, home they were still planning their unborn child’s exciting future. But by the time their train rumbled into Manhattan’s 33rd Street station, they were a new family, complete with a baby boy and a train car full of honorary uncles and aunts. “He came in a very dramatic fashion,” the smiling new mom told The Post from her bed at Roosevelt Hospital. Read More: New York Post

One more time, vengeance shall be Giants’

The Giants wanted another shot at the 49ers, wanted the stakes higher than they were in November. Now they have it, and it doesn’t bother them in the least that the game is in San Francisco, because they would play this one, the one that is the Golden Gateway to Glory, on the moon. Jim Harbaugh has restored the pride to a storied franchise, and 60 minutes from the Super Bowl means the Giants will be expecting a hostile environment Sunday night — and possibly a rainy one as well — at Candlestick Park. “I can care less about how hostile it is, it’s a game,” Antrel Rolle said. “When you’re home, you want to bring ’em to their feet. When you’re away, you want to bring ’em to their knees, and that’s the way I look at it.” Read More: New York Post

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales announces blackout to protest anti-piracy bills in Congress

Wikipedia will black out the English language version of its website Wednesday to protest anti-piracy legislation under consideration in Congress, the foundation behind the popular community-based online encyclopedia said in a statement Monday night. The website will go dark for 24 hours in an unprecedented move that brings added muscle to a growing base of critics of the legislation. Wikipedia is considered one of the Internet’s most popular websites, with millions of visitors daily. “If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States,” the Wikimedia foundation said. Read More: Daily News

Assemblymembers address 111th Precinct

| ecamhi@queenscourier.com

“For the first time in five years, people think that New York is headed in the right direction.”

That’s the word from Assemblymember Edward Braunstein, who spoke at the 111th Precinct Community Council meeting on Tuesday, October 4. Both Braunstein and Assemblymember David Weprin discussed various hot-button policy issues as well as bills they have passed, and are pushing to pass, in Albany.

Braunstein, a lifelong Bayside resident, called his first year in Albany and the overall political year a success.

He gave much of the credit to Governor Andrew Cuomo “who was very impressive in his performance” in his timely balancing of New York’s 10 billion dollar budget, although Braunstein did express disappointment that the millionaire’s tax will expire at the end of year.The tax, which he and other Democrats fought to renew, was blocked by both Governor Cuomo and Senate Republicans.

“Sometimes it takes courage to recognize you’re not in the majority and you have to compromise,” he said. “We acted like adults and passed Governor Cuomo’s budget.

Braunstein said we should see another heated battle next year in Albany over the tax

Another showdown which may soon occur involves the controversial drilling method called hydrofracking which uses water, sand and chemicals to release natural gas from rock.While both the governor and state legislators expect the hydrofracking plan to revive upstate New York’s struggling economy, many environmentalists are worried about its safety.

Braunstein believes the hydrofracking plan will pass and will include rules that “they don’t drill anywhere near New York City’s water supply.”

Some of the year’s successes cited by Braunstein include an ethics reform package and a ban on the sale of the Meth-like drug known as “bath salts.” He is also pushing legislation which would require state colleges to immediately notify authorities of on-campus felonies anda bill to cap property taxeson co-ops at six percent.

Weprin also declared his support of the millionaires’ tax noting that “anyone making over a million a year can afford to pay that extra 1 percent.”

Weprin discussed his bill which seeks to curb water rate hikes by restructuring New York City’s Water Board. The bill, if passed, would end mayoral control of the board.

“As you can imagine, the mayor opposes the bill,” he said.

Weprin also discussed his new proposal to outlaw smoking in cars occupied by passengers under the age of 16 and an “adoptee bill of rights” which would grant adoptees access to their birth certificates when they reach 18.

He concluded his talk by thanking the community for their support during his campaign for the 9th District’s Congressional seat which he lost to Republican Bob Turner by a narrow margin.“I just wanna thank everybody that wished me well,” Weprin said.

“It was about seven weeks, but it felt like seven years, he chuckled.

Both Braunstein and Weprin gave hearty thanks to the 111th Precinct for its responsiveness and active partnership building.