The City Council and Mayor de Blasio, center rear,
celebrate an early budget agreement. Photo Courtesy NYC Council.
BY TESS McRAE
After weeks of negotiations, the annual budget dance has ended and Queens officials are generally excited over the finalized budget.
“This Council has remained committed to a more progressive budget process that stresses inclusion and transparency,” Councilman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and chairwoman of the Finance Committee said in a written statement. “Under Speaker [Melissa] Mark-Viverito’s leadership, every individual Council member has provided considerable insight and, as equal partners with the Mayor’s Office, we have kept laser focused on responsible spending that addresses the needs of all New Yorkers. Many of the priorities we, as a body, have championed will be included in the adopted budget and these victories are shared by everyone, including the City Council, mayor and every New Yorker.”
Though the adopted budget presented no surprises, there were several big decisions made. The largest of the added items is the expansion of the New York Police Department and the hiring of almost 1,300 new officers to the force – costing a total of $170 million. Commissioner Bill Bratton and countless Council members have called on the mayor to increase the number of officers to the force as budget constraints have forced more and more officers to work overtime.
“The Council fought successfully to include funding for 1,300 new police officers in the budget,” Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said. “Our precincts need these officers right now to fight the dangers of our times, including lone-wolf terrorism and gun violence. They will also help improve police-community relations and maintain trust in law enforcement. I’m proud that the Council’s advocacy was effective.”
Though elected officials have praised the increase, police reform groups and activists have come out strongly against the influx, citing existing problems within the NYPD as reason to hold off in hiring more cops.
“This deal to increase the NYPD headcount seems like politics at its worst, and is not in the best interest of the safety or long-term needs of our communities,” said Monifa Bandele, spokesperson for Communities United for Police Reform. “ It’s disappointing and perplexing that the city budget will increase the NYPD headcount when systemic problems with police accountability and culture that allow New Yorkers to be abused and killed have yet to be fixed – and while major needs in our communities are under-resourced. Nothing the NYPD has undertaken – decreases in the overall number of reported stops, expansion of body cameras, and retraining – equate to lasting systemic reform.”
Bandele and CRP called on the city to invest in alternative solutions to improving community-police relationships.
Jackson Heights-based Desis Rising Up and Moving echoed similar concerns.
“When even Bratton keeps changing his mind on the need for more cops, does the NYPD really need new police officers or are these just new ‘toys’ for the department to play with on already over policed communities? How we allocate our city’s resources reflects on our priorities and our expectations of our communities,” DRUM leader and summer fellow Talia Arif said in a written statement. “Are we investing in the building of education, employment, and harmony of our communities, or are we investing in the criminalization of our communities?.”
The breakdown for where the new officers will be sent has not been decided yet, but the Council has often discussed its desire to see officers on foot practicing more community-based policing to improve the relationship between the NYPD and neighborhoods of color.
In a less controversial decision, the City Council has allocated $32 million in Fiscal Year 2016 to increase access to libraries and implement six-day library service in every library across the city.
“By investing nearly $40 million to implement six-day service in every community library, we offer hope and opportunity while striking a blow against inequality,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who chairs the Committee on Libraries and Cultural Affairs, said. “Libraries are a lifeline to so many, but they must be open to perform their life enhancing work.”
Rallies were held at libraries around the city during the Spring, calling on the city to approve six-day service.
“Ensuring children have six-day service ensures them having a safe place to learn and find camaraderie from other children in the community,” Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said at the rally in Laurelton earlier this month. “We went out with the speaker recently and met with kids who said they don’t have computer access on the weekend because they rely on the library for that. Expansion is the keyword. Expansion, expansion, expansion.”
The adopted budget also allots additional funds to hire more school crossing guards. The increase aims to help achieve Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero. The Department of Transportation has already been working to curb accidents near schools, especially those involving children pedestrians.
“Our goal is to make sure that every dangerous intersection that needs a school crossing guard, gets a school crossing guard,” Councilman Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) said.
Perhaps the largest budget item to affect Queens is the flooding mitigation fund. Out of $1.8 billion, $1.5 billion will be designated to Southeast Queens for repairs to flood infrastructure. The allotment was announced by Richards last month, but was finalized along with the rest of the budget.
“I am proud to be a part of the largest investment in infrastructure in the history of Southeast Queens that will finally bring an end to decades of flooding to the community,” Richards said in a prepared statement. “For the second straight year, we have completed a balanced budget ahead of schedule that benefits the everyday New Yorker.”
• $170 million to add new uniformed officers to the NYPD.
• $70 million in savings coming from “vital reforms,” when fully phased-in.
• $1.14 million to fund 80 additional school crossing guards.
• $39 million for universal six-day library service, extended hours, and other improvements.
• Significant new investments in Renewal Schools, including $12.7 million for extended learning time, and $2.2 million for school-based health centers in FY17.
• $17.9 million to phase-in breakfast in the classroom at 530 elementary schools, serving 339,000 students by FY18.
• $6.6 million for the Department of Education to hire 50 additional physical education teachers and conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to address barriers and move schools toward full physical education compliance.
• $2.4 million – growing in the out years – to expand CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), with a goal of increasing the community college three-year associate degree graduation rate from 12 percent to 34 percent.
• $4.3 million to eliminate waitlists for the Department for the Aging’s homecare program, and $2 million to expand elder abuse prevention.
• $750,000 – growing in the out years – to fund support services through the Seniors in Affordable Rental Apartments (SARA) Program; 30 percent of those units are set aside for homeless seniors.
• $21 million for FY2016 only to ensure there are no gaps in service as the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene establishes a more effective RFP process for service providers.
PARKS & RECREATION
• $687,000 to fund an extension of beach season for one week past Labor Day.