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.
FDNY Budget Tango: Council Asks 'Where's the List?'
Monday, May 16, 2011
On Monday, New York City Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano told a City Council panel that Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to cut 20 fire companies would negatively impact every Council district.
Cassano said major cuts to civilian support staff in recent years left him with no choice but to cut the FDNY's operational side. He estimates losing more than 900 positions, or eight percent of the uniformed work force.
Cassano told the Council panel that he had already presented the Bloomberg Administration with a proposed list of companies for possible closure, a disclosure that drew the attention of the Council when Cassano declined to share the list.
Council Finance Chair Dominic Recchia told Cassano "I am directing my attorney on my staff to do a FOIA request to day and have it hand delivered to the Bloomberg Administration."
Other Council members wanted to resort to the Council's subpoena powers. Brooklyn Councilman Lou Fidler said the lack of disclosure threatened to undermine the budget process.
“We cannot be partners in this process, you cannot possibly ask this council to vote to close fire companies without telling us which companies and what specifically the response time issues are,” said Fidler.
But at a press conference later in the day, Mayor Bloomberg was cryptic and didn't give up any details about the list.
"It's not just 'a' list that says 'if we close 20, it's going to be this,' it's a question of if you close 30 or 10 or none or, you know, you can't close them all but if you get down to one fire house what would you do, which one? I can't give you an answer. There's no rational answer to that kind of question."
A spokesman for the Mayor said there was no final list and no precedent of the Administration offering it up until it was final.
Just hours after the animated budget hearing, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn demanded the list Cassano referenced be turned over to the Council so they could evaluate the potential impact of the reductions in their budget deliberations.
Under the City Charter, the Bloomberg Administration has to provide 45 days notice before it closes a fire company. That means any potential closures would come after the Mayor and Council's July 1 budget deadline.
In 2003, Mayor Bloomberg closed six fire companies. More recently, the Council used some of its discretionary funds to restore FDNY cuts. But this year, with major state and Federal cuts to a long list of City programs, competition for that special consideration will be intense.