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Mayor to Community Boards: drop dead (or, at least, wither away)

The city’s 59 Community Boards, according to the mayor’s office, “have an important advisory role in dealing with land use and zoning matters, the City budget, municipal service delivery, and many other matters relating to their communities' welfare.”

They represent, on average, nearly 140,000 people each, a population larger than cities like New Haven, CT; Trenton, NJ; and Albany, NY. And while they obviously don’t run city agencies, they could try to fulfill their role--if they had the money.

But Community Board budgets average around $220,000, and Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s budget proposes that those budgets go down 5%, not up. 

Yes, the city budget is under stress, but, as Manhattan CB 7 Chair Helen Rosenthal notes in this March 16 Gotham Gazette commentary, the entire community board budget is some $15 million--essentially a rounding error in a $60 billion budget. (Actually, the budget this year looks like it'll be under $14 million. See p. 55 of this PDF budget document.)

Numerous Community Boards asked for an increase in their budgets, pointing out that they're already stretched to the bone, and the CBs can’t fulfill their mandates in the city charter.

Harsh response

The message from the Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget, in budget documents (PDF) released Friday, was unyielding: The Community Board budget will be reduced in FY 2010.

That’s not the end of the story. Later this month, the City Council will hold public hearings on the Executive Budget, allowing comment by interested parties, and the budget will be revised before it takes effect July 1. The City Council in the past has restored proposed mayoral cuts, but this year may be different, as NY1 noted April 29.

(Nor does the mayor's office seem to be following the Community Boards' service priorities, as the Independent Budget Office pointed out March 19.)

List of requests

Below is a sample of explanations why Community Boards requested more funding.

Brooklyn CB 6
Funding in the amount of $300,000 is requested in order for Community Boards to fulfill their Charter mandated roles to plan and advocate for neighborhood needs. An increase in funds will be used to fund the hiring of a planner, to keep pace with cost of living adjustments which have never been applied to Community Boards, to upgrade complaint systems software which was previously supplied and supported by prior Administrations and to expand District Office functionality with the purchase of additional equipment and supplies. Increases in funding for Collective Bargaining Increases do not address this.

Brooklyn CB 8
The 59 Community Boards are vital in the City's operating process. However, Community Boards still woefully lack adequate funding. Community Boards need to be able to hire planners and other skilled professionals to evaluate development projects. The meager budgets provided for the boards do not keep pace with inflation and any increased operating costs. The costs for acquiring much needed newer technology, computer software, upgraded hardware as well as internet/web access capabilities is expensive. In order to continue delivering the most valuable mission per the 1989 revised City Charter, we staunchly advocate for increased budget allocations for all Community Boards.

Bronx CB 2
With pending budget cuts/service reduction to larger city agencies, community boards will have an increased role assuring delivery of essential services to their constituencies.

Bronx CB 6
Community boards, which are among the city's smallest agencies and have been subject to a 2.5% reduction in FY09 and are slated for a 5% reduction in FY 2010 thru 2012. Unlike larger agencies, community boards can not absorb these cuts through attrition, layoffs, and reductions in the purchase of equipment and supplies. For community boards such cuts are devastating and negatively impact our abiity to carry out our City Charter mandated duties. We ask that the community boards funding be restored to at least their original fiscal year 2009 level of $199,895.

Bronx CB 7
The budgets for the community boards have remained flat for the last 15 years, seeing no cost of living increases except for union mandated wage adjustments. Now community boards are asked to implement several cuts over the next few years in an attempt to balance the budget. The amount of savings garnered (less than 1/10000th of a percent) is miniscule in comparison to the overall city budget, but devestating to the day-to-day operations of the individual community boards. We ask that the city restore all recent and projected cuts to community boards to assure that they can continue to provide services to their districts.

Brooklyn CB 12
Some years ago, monies were taken out of the Community Board budgets and were never fully replenished. Last year for the first time, the Commmunity Boards' budgets were negatively impacted because the Boards had to partially fund collective bargaining increases as well as the Mayor's Personnel Order for Managerial Increases. The Mayor has once again cut the Board's budgets. Based on this, most Community Boards are operating on a deficit unable to afford supplies and other amenities. The Boards' budgets must be increased, not decreased.

Manhattan CB 1
The current allocation is woefully inadequate to address the rapidly increasing needs faced by our Lower Manhattan Community Board. Community Boards play a critical role in providing local residents and workers with a voice in determining policies and priorities for their community. An increase would greatly assist us in fulfilling our important mission, at this time when Lower Manhattan is being redeveloped and the many major construction projects are challenging the quality of life of our residents and workers.

Queens CB 9
Community Boards currently receive $183,000 to operate the District Office. We are requesting an increase to $250,000, a portion of which will be used to upgrade and maintain our complaint system, fund a postage increase and provide technical support.

Upgrading training and hiring planners

Brooklyn CB 7 asked for funding “to provide access & training on zoning & land use matters for its members.”

The response was that the Department of City Planning doesn’t have funding, but can provide some help.

Brooklyn CB 18 asked for a budget increase to both “restore the cuts and to allow for the hiring of a planner consistent with... the City Charter.” The response was no.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has proposed a plan in which urban planning interns are placed at Community Boards, but the mayor’s office, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, are wary of the modest cost.