Borough President Melinda Katz (left) sits at a task force meeting on the New York State Pavilion. Funding for the Pavilion was included in the Borough Board budget priorities.
BY JOE MARVILLI
Borough President Melinda Katz announced on March 12 that the Borough Board had unanimously approved a list of expenses that they would like to see get included in the City’s budget for Fiscal Year 2015. Mayor Bill de Blasio and the City Council must adopt a budget for the five boroughs by July 1.
For the first Borough Board budget assembled by the new Queens administration, the top priorities included creating more affordable housing, boosting the funding for cultural organizations and institutions, securing capital funding for the New York State Pavilion revitalization, creating a 116th police precinct, adding a police substation in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and improving pedestrian and traffic safety in Queens.
The Borough Board itself is made up of the Borough President, the Queens members of the City Council and the chairs of the Borough’s community boards. The City Charter requires the Borough Board to submit a package of budget priorities each year to the Mayor, the City Council and the Director of Management and Budget. This year, those priorities are due on March 24.
“The budget priorities that my office has prepared and that the Borough Board has approved outline a meaningful approach to solving some of the longstanding challenges faced by the Borough of Queens,” Katz said. “They are aimed at helping our City meet the needs of our Borough’s diverse population in a fiscally prudent manner.”
The Borough President’s budget office assembled the list of priorities after reviewing information and requests made by Queens’ 14 Community Boards and by local organizations looking for City funding. An oral testimony was given by all the groups looking for funding during an all-day hearing on Feb. 20.
Each year, the community boards come up with a capital expenditure wish list for the budget hearing. The head of the budget committee will make a report by sitting down with the chairs of all the board’s committees. These priorities are then put together and presented to the full board, who will debate and vote on it. The process is open to the public.
A New Precinct?
One of the most notable items on the list of priorities would be the creation of a new police precinct in Queens, the 116th precinct. The territory of the 105th precinct would be cut in half and the 116th would be responsible for the southern half of that district.
As it stands, the 105th precinct is the largest in Queens. It runs from Little Neck Bay to John F. Kennedy airport, covering neighborhoods that range from Bayside and Douglaston to Queens Village and Bellerose to Springfield Gardens and Laurelton. With such a huge area to cover, an added precinct would help take the pressure off the 105th in getting to everything.
“BP Katz believes a new precinct is needed in order to reduce response times and increase the police presence in Southeast Queens,” spokesman Michael Scholl said.
While there is not a set location yet for the new precinct, community leaders were thrilled with the addition being included as a priority. Glen Oaks Village Co-op president Bob Friedrich said that with a precinct large enough that it takes 35 minutes to drive through; splitting the workload between two precincts is a needed change.
“With a police precinct of that size, it stretches resources very thin. As a result, the northern and southern parts of the 105th do not get their fair share of resources,” he said.
Related to that subject, the priorities list is looking to create a police substation in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Crime in parks has long been an issue for Queens, as the police force does not have enough resources to place a sufficient amount of officers to cover the green spaces. As the Borough’s flagship park, FMCP has one of the largest amounts of territory to cover.
No location for the station has been selected as of yet.
One of the biggest pushes in New York right now, from both the Borough-wide and City-wide levels, is traffic and pedestrian safety. With Mayor de Blasio introducing the Vision Zero initiative to reduce traffic-related deaths to zero within 10 years, the Borough budget falls in line with that goal.
Katz’s release mentioned that improving safety in Queens through more “slow zones,” more pedestrian countdown signals, speed cameras and increasing police presence, is one of the Borough’s top concerns.
“All Queens neighborhoods deserve to have streets that are safe for both pedestrians and drivers. We are working closely with the Mayor on Vision Zero and we have compiled a list of problem traffic safety locations that were submitted by all Queens community boards,” Scholl said.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said that the Borough President’s move is exactly what is needed for the community.
“It’s incredibly important that the Borough President support our efforts in the local council district to implement traffic-calming measures,” he said. “We have two slow zones going to my district this year, but we have so many neighborhoods across Queens crying out for additional safety measures.”
Bay Terrace Community Alliance president and Community Board 7 member Warren Schreiber agreed, saying that the safety measures are particularly important in protecting senior citizens who cannot cross the street as quickly, and children who are not always attentive to their surroundings.
“The answer is not to speed up the senior citizen or make the child more aware, but to slow down the traffic,” he said.
With New York City seen as one of the centerpieces of culture in the world, Queens has its own role to play. Many cultural institutions look for financial help from the City each year. This time around, it looks like the Borough Board means to help them out.
According to Scholl, Queens cultural organizations have historically received less funding per capita than any other borough. To help rectify this situation, the Borough President’s release mentioned that an overall increase in cultural funding has been suggested.
Van Bramer mentioned that he had been in conversation recently with Katz about cultural funding and said he was happy to see that the arts are a priority in this administration.
“We are going to make our Borough stronger by encouraging folks to come by making these cultural offerings better and enhancing the buildings they are housed in and keeping them well-maintained,” he said.
Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer, the executive director of the Queens Council on the Arts, was also cautiously optimistic about the move and said she hoped the Mayor approved the budget item.
“I just hope it passes muster. It’s never over until the fat lady sings,” she said.
Alongside the cultural improvements, the Borough President is aiming to find funding for the restoration of the New York State Pavilion, a project she became involved with earlier this year. While its infrastructure has gone unattended for 50 years, she said she wants to fix up the Pavilion in some way, to make it a shining part of Queens’ history.
“We’re very excited to see her commitment and leadership in taking up this cause and moving it forward,” Matthew Silva, from People for the Pavilion, said.
Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Joey788.