2010-04-16 / Top Stories

Budget Cuts Will Cripple Community Boards

By Nicholas Briano

Community Board 14 and the 58 other community boards in New York City are facing severe budget cuts in fiscal year 2011. A recent photo of Community Board 14 holding their monthly meeting in Rockaway Beach. Community Board 14 and the 58 other community boards in New York City are facing severe budget cuts in fiscal year 2011. A recent photo of Community Board 14 holding their monthly meeting in Rockaway Beach. New York City budget season is in full swing and the mayor is taking aim at the city’s 59 community boards and their measly .005 percent share of the city’s municipal budget.

Bloomberg is calling on a nearly 30 percent decrease in the community boards’ operating budget, a move that would cripple their ability to conduct business and most likely result in layoffs by many of the boards.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska said. “If the Council doesn’t restore our budget the community’s voice will completely disappear.”

The mayor’s plan involves cutting each community board’s budget, which Gaska says currently stands at around $200,000, to just $160,437 in 2011. However, if state funding to the city is reduced, the budget would be cut even more to $144,000 per year.

Councilman Eric Ulrich, a former community board member himself, understands how significant the potential budget cuts could be.

“As a former Community Board member, I know first-hand how important community boards are to the neighborhoods they serve. They are the eyes and ears of the community. And now more than ever, we need to strengthen their role in dealing with land use and zoning matters, budget concerns, and municipal service delivery,” he said.

Ulrich and Gaska were joined by other community boards and elected officials at a rally held at Queens Bor- ough Hall this week to protest the proposed cuts. He and others at the rally were concerned that the city’s Charter Revision Commission will, in the near future, suggest completely eliminating the community boards.

“The mayor is not big on community input anyway and I think we’re considered a nuisance to city government,” Gaska said. “Community input is not something city hall likes because it makes the process difficult for them and slows everything down.”

It is in the Council’s hands to save community boards from the cuts and approve the budget before the 2011 fiscal year begins on July 1. But despite the economic shortfalls of the city, the Council recently voted to increase their operating budget 4.6 percent or $2.3 million from last year. Speaker Christine Quinn defended the increase, calling it a cost of living raise for each councilmember.

Meanwhile community boards are the only city agency that has not gotten an increase in their yearly budget and the consistent belief among them is that it will become nearly impossible to conduct business as usual if their budget is cut to just $144,000 each.

“The police department spends more on office supplies per year than the entire community board budget,” Gaska said. “That should give you an idea of how small our budget really is.”

Now more than ever Gaska and other boards around the city need to prove their worth to the Council. He urges anyone from civic groups, community groups and even residents who have received assistance from Community Board 14 to write letters to Speaker Quinn and Councilmembers Ulrich and Sanders expressing support for the board and its operations. Community boards are the most local form of government and often provide residents a forum to express ideas and opinions regarding anything ranging from land-use to quality of life issues.

There is a big difference in a $60,000 cut for community boards and a large agency such as, for example, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), Gaska says.

“What do you accomplish by laying off people and sending them on welfare? A $60,000 cut for HPD means no new office chairs, for us it means layoffs. It’s just bad public policy.”

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