Brooklyn’s community boards took to City Hall this week, decrying budget cuts they fear could cripple their ability to function.
The boards, which act as liaisons between local residents and city government, have been told by the city’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to expect more budget pain in July — on top of already planned cuts. The boards now face cuts of about 15 percent in Fiscal Year 2010, which begins next month. “The bottom line is that many boards will not have the ability to operate unless we cut staff, and that means a reduction in services to the public,” Alvin Berk, the chair of Community Board 14 said before the June 9 rally.
Berk, whose board has three paid employees and encompasses Midwood, Flatbush and Kensington, said that in his nearly 30 years of board involvement, “this is the worst financial picture I’ve ever seen.”
Community boards operate on budgets of roughly $200,000, money that is used to cover expenses, personnel, as well as supplies and mailings. The lion’s share of the money goes to staff salaries. Each board has 50 members, all of whom are volunteers.
The prolonged recession has prompted the mayor to call for cuts across every city agency. Last summer, the City Council restored all of the money that the mayor initially proposed cutting from the city’s 59 community boards. The hope is that the Council — with urging from board members and the public — will again restore the funds.
Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, doesn’t want to take any chances. “It’s impossible to make a cut like that without affecting staff,” he said. “You could get rid of your entire budget for supplies, etc., and still not have enough money.”
If the cuts go through, his board could see $35,000 lopped off its 2010 budget.
“You’re forcing community board to reduce manpower,” he said. Board 6 employs three full−time workers, and one part−time. District managers are paid staff members.
Hammerman said it’s not enough for the city to say that the cuts are not targeted at community boards specifically, but instead apply to all city agencies. “For larger agencies with more elastic budgets, they have more room to absorb them,” Hammerman said. “We have an inelastic budget.”
Mayoral spokesperson Marc LaVorgna said the economic downturn has reduced city tax revenues by nearly $5 billion, forcing reduced spending. “From police and fire to education and social services every city agency has had to cut spending and find ways to be more efficient and do more with less resources — this includes the community boards as well,” he said.
Still, Hammerman said, those who rallied wanted to demonstrate boards’ value to city government. “It’s about raising awareness,” he said. The rally was organized by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
Dorothy Turano, the district manager of Community Board 18, agreed with the message, but not necessarily the method.
She characterized the cuts as “draconian” and “ridiculous,” but said she didn’t plan on schlepping across the Brooklyn Bridge — as some planned to do until the action was cancelled due to heavy rain. “Our elected officials are very much in tune to the needs of our community board and they can more effectively convey that message to the mayor,” said Turano, whose board encompasses Canarsie, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Flatlands, Mill Island and Georgetown. “Who are we going to march for?” Board 18 has two paid employees.
“They really like to march and protest, but when push comes to shove, our elected officials will carry the weight more sufficiently,” she said, noting her confidence in pols like State Senator Carl Kruger, and City Councilmembers Lew Fidler, Kendall Stewart, and Charles Barron.