Budget cuts would cripple local community boards
By Susan Stetzer and Bob Gormley
Community boards play a vital role in the citys governmental process and provide community members their best opportunity to influence decisions that will impact their lives at a local level. Community boards assist individuals, families and businesses in resolving a litany of quality-of-life complaints and also in getting city regulations enforced. In addition, the City Charter and state agencies mandate that community boards weigh in on a range of issues, including applications for liquor licenses, street fairs, sidewalk cafes and a variety of land-use applications, as well as making recommendations to the mayor and City Council on budget expenditures within the district.
The proposed draconian budget cut to community boards would make it impossible for our boards to function in an effective and efficient way. The result would be a stifling of the voice of the people. In addition, especially with cuts at all the city agencies, community members would have less help in obtaining city services.
The preliminary budget proposed by the mayor that is currently on the table would cut each community boards budget by approximately 18 percent, or about $36,000 out of a total $205,000. We recognize that the city is facing a severe fiscal crunch and that virtually all city agencies are being asked to accept cuts to their budgets. So, why do we ask to be exempted? It is because, unlike all other city agencies, our operating budgets have not seen any increases for almost 20 years! In fact, we are still working with a deficit of almost $23,000 due to a previous unrestored cut. While other agencies saw their budgets expand to develop new programs, provide new services or merely to meet the cost of inflation, community boards have been forced to continually do more with less. Until now, we have been able to meet this challenge. However, we have stretched our resources as far as they can go, and we are at the breaking point.
In the grand scheme of things, a cut of $36,000 may not seem like an awful lot of money. Unfortunately, it would result in the laying off of staff at community boards around the city. Since most boards have only three individuals on staff, this would constitute a 33 percent reduction. This is grossly unfair and we defy the mayor to identify any city agency that could function after so deep a staff cut.
If the volume of work being performed by our boards was stagnant or lessening, perhaps a case could be made for a cut. However, the exact opposite is true. At Community Board 2, during the past two years, the number of resolutions passed by the boards Landmarks Committee has increased by 59 percent, from 94 to 149, and the number of resolutions passed by C.B. 2s Sidewalk Committee on sidewalk cafe applications increased by 33 percent, from 80 to 106. In addition, in 2008, the C.B. 2 S.L.A. Licensing Committee held public hearings and passed resolutions on 127 on-premise liquor license or beer and wine license applications, while the boards Street Activities Committee reviewed and passed resolutions on 110 street fair applications. C.B. 2 also has been dealing with several other large issues within its district, including the plan to rebuild St. Vincents Hospital; the redevelopment of Pier 40; the renovation of Washington Square Park; the construction of the Trump Soho Hotel; and the proposed Sanitation garage on Spring St.; as well as issues relating to the expansion of New York University and The New School.
Community Board 3 has had increased applications for licensed businesses (liquor licenses and sidewalk cafes) every year from 2006 to the present, increasing over all from 278 to 341. Block party and street fair applications have also increased every year from 2006 through 2008. Last year C.B. 3 completed rezoning 111 blocks of the boards district, and is now studying possible rezoning of significant areas outside the newly rezoned area. The board is working with the city to reconstruct and redesign its waterfront, as well as with C.B. 2 to redesign the Astor Place area. Board 3 works with the Mayors Office and production companies to ease the impact of filming in the district. The community board has worked with the Department of Transportation on a number of significant projects where community input was critical.
All of these actions and issues are of deep concern to our board members and our constituents. The public hearings and meetings at which these issues, as well as many other issues, were taken up by our various committees are often the best, and sometimes the only, way for community residents and merchants to make their voices heard by City Hall. In order to support our board members in addressing these concerns, our staff people work extremely hard to make sure that notices go out in a timely manner, resolutions get copied and sent to relevant parties, and that the unending stream of questions from the community get answered. In addition we work with agencies and City Hall to ensure city services and enforcement and follow-up on individual problems. We also implement board votes for policies and services. We coordinate service delivery for our area and make recommendations for overall service issues to better meet our community needs. To ask us to cut staff at this time would ensure that it would be impossible for us to do the work that we currently do, much of which is required by the City Charter.
The community board provides a structure for community members to participate in decision-making for the community. Board members are selected from among active, involved people of each community with an effort made to ensure that every neighborhood is represented. Community boards do significant outreach to the community, hold monthly committee meetings, full board meetings and hold public hearings and town hall meetings on topics of significant interest to the community. Community boards offer a tremendous bang for the buck. Each of the 59 boards have 50 volunteer members with many different skills. Each board is supported by a very small office staff who also facilitate the delivery of city services and enforcement of regulations.
The proposed cut to the community board budget would be counterproductive and would shut people out of City Hall. It is also simply unfair. It is imperative for the mayor and the City Council to restore our funding so that we can continue to serve our communities.
We need the support of our communities. There will be a rally to restore the proposed cuts to the community board budgets on the steps of City Hall on Tues., June 9, at 11 a.m. Please come and help us cover the steps to City Hall with people protesting community board cuts.
Stetzer and Gormley are the respective district managers of Community Boards 3 and 2.