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Bracing for the cuts - Local pols react to Bloomberg’s proposed budget

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Brooklyn councilmembers braced for what promises to be difficult cuts in city departments and services as Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealed the city’s preliminary budget last week in City Hall.

Facing a $4 billion deficit for Fiscal Year 2010, Mayor Bloomberg outlined a comprehensive plan to close the gap through eliminating $1 billion in agency closings, keeping controllable expenses flat, and raising the sales tax, as well as negotiating with labor unions to reform pensions and control health care costs. According to the Office of Management and Budget’s estimates, tax revenues will be $3.3 billion lower next year than in 2008 and the city will take in a total of $5 billion less in tax revenue by 2010. The mayor’s plan, released in November, addressed $2.4 billion of a $6.4 billion projected budget deficit, and the current plan aims to close the city’s remaining $4 billion gap.

“The bottom line is we will have to work together with Albany, with the unions, with both sides of City Hall and with the public,” Mayor Bloomberg said. “We should not make the mistakes of the 1970s and walk away from projects that we need. I am as optimistic as I can be for the city in the long term.”

Brooklyn councilmembers pointed to plans calling for the elimination of new recruiting classes for police and firefighters, reducing staff in fire departments and questions surrounding steep cuts in the city’s public school budget from the state as being the most severe of the mayor’s budget proposal that they will attempt to seek a resolution on.

“I must say it is unfathomable to me that corporations and finance executives are receiving bailouts to payout huge bonuses and purchase jets, while our neighborhoods will be asked to suffer the end of affordable housing production, the closure of hospitals and cuts to childcare slots,” Councilmember Diana Reyna said.

Reyna elaborated that the cuts are a by-product of the reality of the city’s current economic climate and it is too early to tell whether specific services or programs in North Brooklyn could feel the brunt of these reductions.

“I understand that cuts have to be made, but each area of the city should take its share of the responsibi­lity,” Reyna said. “Different neighborhoods have different needs, and we must recognize those needs and cut accordingly. We must all work to build confidence in our economy.”

In Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, Councilmember Letitia James said that public safety was the top priority and that she would work hard to prevent layoffs among residents working in homeless services, early childhood education and childcare, and other city agencies.

“I just had a rape, a violent rape, in my district. I wouldn’t want to delay the recruitment of new police recruits,” said Councilmember James.

It is unclear how North Brooklyn residents will be affected by the budget cuts, beyond those who work for the city and could see their pensions renegotiated. One area to watch will be infrastructure funding for future projects such as new schools, buildings, and roadways. Mayor Bloomberg did indicate that the city would not shirk its responsibilities for maintaining current infrastructure projects, but some city projects have already been extended beyond their completion time.

Phil DePaolo, a community activist and organizer with People’s Firehouse, believes that the crux of future budget negotiations will revolve around staffing issues in firehouses and police stations.

“The police cuts, if he goes through with them, would be devastating because we’re shorthanded as it is,” DePaolo said. “Staffing is a big issue in our precincts (90th and 94th) especially at night.”

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