WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
This week, the City Council will offer a budget counter-proposal to Mayor Bloomberg. The proposal comes as the city faces cuts from both Albany and Washington. Between a possible $200 milllion dollar cut in Washington and a real $400 million dollar hit from Albany, the Mayor and Council have their work cut out for them.
City Council Finance Chair Domenic Recchia says he and his colleagues will be looking closely at the hundreds of millions of dollars the city spends on overtime and billions on contracts with outside vendors. Recchia says the CityTime payroll project scandal, in which $80 million dollars was allegedly stolen from the City, raises questions about the management of other city contracts.
Just a few weeks ago, in a significant policy shift Deputy Mayor Stephen Goldsmith said the Bloomberg Administration would pull back on the use of outside contractors acting as the City's "quality assurance" front line. Goldsmith made the move after he completed a study ordered by Mayor Bloomberg of the city's big-ticket tech and IT contracts, post-CityTime indictments.
Finance chair Recchia said both the growth in City outside contracts and budget busting overtime would come under Council scrutiny.
“You’re going to see that in the executive budget here and we’re going to be focusing on the overtime and these outside contracts,”
Recchia says he is concerned about the potential cancellation of an incoming class of 540 police cadets later this month and ongoing fire department labor discrimination litigation that is preventing the City from hiring probationary firefighters. Recchia says delays in the pipeline for new cops and firefighters actually costs the city more in the long run.
“We don’t have enough men and women serving on the police department or on the fire department, and they’re having a lot of overtime,” says Recchia.
Each year, the council has a few hundred million dollars in discretionary aid at its disposal that can be used to restore some cuts. Recchia says this year competition for that aid will be intense.
This year the council's list of 'want to saves' includes the perrenial 20 fire houses, library hours and local neighborhood social service safety net programs. But that list is longer than at any time in recent memory.
About the only good news out of the state budget process was Albany's decision to restore $27 million dollars to the Title XX program that funds senior centers. That will ensure the city can keep all of the 105 senior centers open that Mayor Bloomberg had slated for closure.
Meanwhile in Washington, pending cuts to Community Development Block Grants, emergency housing inspections, support for public housing and Head Start loom large.
Mayor Bloomberg presents his Executive budget next month and the Council and Mayor have until the end of June.