Bloomberg's Big Budget Cuts
Friday, November 19, 2010
More than 10,000 city jobs are on the chopping block if Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s revised budget plan is passed. The plan, released Thursday, is the latest sign of the toll the recession has taken on the city. And Bloomberg says this budget still wouldn’t go far enough.
“Somehow or other in January, we've got to come up with $2 billion more in tax revenues, fee revenues, that sort of thing, or in cuts, or -- what's likely -- some combination,” Bloomberg said Friday, speaking on WOR Radio.
The mayor says one reason the city is making cuts is to compensate for a loss of $853 in federal stimulus funds to the Department of Education.
Still, this budget calls for a reduction of 6,166 teachers through layoffs and attrition, beginning next school year.
Budget watchdogs like Carol Kellerman, head of the Citizens Budget Commission, say Bloomberg’s announcement is meant to tell city unions to relax their negotiating demands. “He can't deal with the cost of compensation without a team effort from the leaders of the public employees union,” Kellerman said.
Labor negotiations are underway for a number of the local unions, including the United Federation of Teachers.
The total number of city employees that would lose their jobs under this budget between the current and following fiscal year, which starts next July, is 6,201, as well as another 4,165 jobs through attrition. Bloomberg says the city employs about 300,000 people now.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn conceded that the mayor has the right to make mid-year cuts to the budget. But she says she and other members will argue with Bloomberg on some cuts and suggest savings in other places. She took issue with the 118 layoffs at the Administration for Children's Services.
“We believe, and have a fear, that this staff reduction would strain agency workers who are already overburdened and potentially place children at risk,” Quinn said.
Fire Department Hit
The budget also calls for reductions in overnight staffing at 20 firehouses. A fire department spokesman says the goal is to keep at least one company, either the engine or the ladder, open at each firehouse so it is not closed entirely. But that idea didn't appease Steve Cassidy, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, the firefighters union.
“The mayors proposed cuts to the fire department, closing 20 fire companies at night on a rotating basis, is playing Russian roulette with people's lives,” Cassidy said.
The FDNY says it is still working out which firehouses would be affected. Last January the mayor proposed closing 20 firehouses, but the plan was scrapped when the June budget passed.
$17M Less for Seniors
The Department of Aging is forced to reduce spending by more than $17 million over the next two years. The department's current budget of $264.3 million represents a $30 million reduction from the previous year's budget.
Bobbie Sackman with the Council of Senior Centers and Services says she's most concerned about how the cuts to city contractors will affect home-bound residents.
These private social service agencies, Sackman said, "make sure [seniors] can get to their medical care, they can make sure if they are depressed they can take care of them, because some people have even threatened suicide. These are the front lines, the eyes and ears for elder abuse that goes on around the city."
A spokesman for the agency says that the Department of Aging will be working with its provider agencies to consider alternatives to minimize the impact on the city's most fragile seniors.
Doubling Up the Homeless
In order to save $1.7 million, the Department of Homeless Services will ask some homeless families to share apartment-style units. The department's commissioner, Seth Diamond, says the idea, which needs to be approved by the City Council, has an upside, since the city would need to open fewer shelters.
Advocates say the proposal would make life more difficult for families already under stress and force them to share spaces with strangers, which could be risky. The city says it will only ask single mothers with kids younger than six to share units. It will try out the idea in eight of its buildings.
Bloomberg's plan does include some steps to increase revenues, as well. Parking meter rates will go up 50 cents, to $3.00 an hour for spots south of 86 Street in Manhattan. Elsewhere in the city, the hike will be a quarter, to $1.00.
City Hall aides expect this measure will bring in an extra $4 million by June, and another $24 million in the next fiscal year. While that's a tiny amount compared to the overall $3.3 billion budget gap, city officials say raising meter rates will encourage people to drive less and free up more parking spots.
The budget plan still requires approval from the City Council.
Reporting by: Brigid Bergin, Andrea Bernstein, Annmarie Fertoli, Beth Fertig, Kathleen Horan, Stephen Nessen, Cindy Rodriguez, Matthew Schuerman