2009-02-06 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

First, Cut BPs, Stop Planting Trees And Painting Bike Lanes
Commentary By Howard Schwach

There is no doubt that New York City, along with the rest of the nation's big cities, is in a recession bordering on depression.

There is also no doubt that there need to be major cuts in public spending to address the budget gap.

The mayor, however, with his elitist agenda and desire to wring every penny he can from the middle class residents who support and serve this city, is lying to us all when he says that he has to cut thousands of civil servants from the payroll.

What cuts is he proposing, all with hopes of getting more money from the state and federal governments?

• He wants to reduce the uniformed police headcount by 1,000 officers. • He wants to eliminate 30 FDNY ambulance tours. • He wants to eliminate the fifth firefighter on 64 engines and eliminate one of the companies in dual-company firehouses, such as the Big House in Far Rockaway and the new firehouse in Arverne. • He wants to eliminate thousands of teaching positions. • He wants to increase the cost of

parking meters by 50 percent, which means that meters in the

west end shopping areas would cost

fifty cents for twenty minutes. • He wants to reduce spending on

senior citizen centers by five percent.

• He wants to cut 167 seasonal park aides, which would translate to dirtier and more dangerous beaches. • He wants to release "low-risk" prisoners

to probation to save money in prisons, therefore putting more

multiple offenders back on the

street. • He also called for a five-cent tax on plastic bags and an increase on the sales tax, both of which will send Rockaway residents in droves to Nassau County shopping malls for big-ticket items and clothing, especially since the Nassau County sales tax will be considerably less than the


It's strange, however, that he didn't mention cuts in programs favored by his elitist friends, such as planting trees all over the city at $1,000 a pop or painting mile after mile of bike lanes, which costs the city tens of thousands of dollars each month.

Of course, the mayor is looking to hire more traffic enforcement agents and to put up a red light camera at virtually every intersection in Manhattan in an attempt to collect even more in fines and summonses from the middle class city residents.

In fact, he has proposed to the state that he be given permission to erect the red light cameras at "unlimited locations and raise the fine for going through those intersections on red to $100 from $50.

Think of all those tickets that will be issued by the new red light cameras and the new TEA's who patrol the parking meters like hawks.

The mayor is wringing his hands in glee over the new revenue the city will take out of the pockets of its residents, while, at the same time, reducing services.

The city should review all contracts between political hacks such as Geraldine Chapey and its agencies.

Chapey's one-van senior citizen transportation non-profit has received more than a million dollars from the city in the past 10 years, in addition to the two or three hundred thousand bucks she has received in member item money from Audrey Pheffer and Joe Addabbo. That money could certainly be better spent, even though we have no idea how the money was spent, because neither she nor the city will respond to questions.

In any case, the first city personnel to be eliminated should not be the cops, teachers or firefighters. The first cuts should be the borough presidents and their staffs.

The borough presidents are vestigial organs from a past life and have no role to play in a modern city.

There are five borough presidents. Ours here in Queens is Helen Marshall, a nice person who says that she loves Rockaway, but has done virtually nothing for us in the past few years.

What do the borough presidents really do?

They appoint community board members, although in reality those locals are appointed by state and city elected politicians and vetted by the borough president.

They issue purely advisory opinions on land use matters such as the Beach 116 Street rezoning. Advisory means that other city agencies don't have to pay any attention to what they say.

They make budget recommendations. The controlling word is recommendations.

They hold public hearings, which are largely a Potemkin Village - all for show.

They promote their borough through a public relations campaign and personal appearances. In reality, the only BP who does a good job in this task is Brooklyn's Marty Markowitz, and all I can say is I wish he represented Queens.

They run a topographical unit that maintains borough maps and helps the post office provide addresses for new construction.

That's what they do. Is there anything there without which we cannot do? Didn't think so.

What do they cost you each year to name community board members and hold public hearings?

Marshall, 78, has a staff of 54 people, which earns in the aggregate $3.5 million. Marshall alone earns $160,000, more than a city council member, who earns $112,500 a year.

She has four cars at her disposal and drivers to match. She has a discretionary budget (which means she can spend it any way she wants) of $280,000.

By the way, in the face of the cuts, she wants to build a glass ceiling on Borough Hall to make a kind of atrium. What a sense of timing.

Markowitz is even tougher on your tax dollars.

He has a staff of 84 that costs city taxpayers more than $5 million a year. He has seven cars and three drivers. His discretionary budget comes to more than $300,000 a year.

The Public Advocate represents the consumers of city services, which means she has a lot of press conferences and issues lots of press releases. She does nothing else for her $150,000 salary, and it has been impossible for me to find out what her extensive staff costs us.

Need more money? First, stop planting trees and painting foolish bike lanes where they do not belong.

Then, get rid of the borough presidents, the public advocate and their massive staffs.

Then, stop hiring people whose only role is giving summonses to city residents.

All the mayor is doing is driving people from the city. Not that he cares. His friends will stick around.

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