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Mayor favors cuts to community boards

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg favors “across the board” cuts – a cross Bronx community boards may have to bear.

The borough’s 12 district managers trooped to Manhattan on Thursday, March 12 for a City Council budget hearing. The boards stand to lose $24,000 on average in fiscal year 2010 – a 12 percent reduction.

“When times were good, other agencies saw increased funding,” Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta said. “We didn’t. Now Bloomberg wants us to share?”

Together, the city’s 59 community boards command less than $12 million a year. If the City Council doesn’t protect board funding this spring, Fratta will cut staff, he said. Community Board 11 employs Fratta and two part-timers.

“We won’t be able to function,” Fratta said. “I’ll be in the office. I’ll be answering phones. I won’t be out in the community.”

Fratta’s operating budget is $13,000. Established in 1975, community boards advise the Mayor and City Council on land-use, zoning and money matters. Board members are volunteers.

“Every aspect of our office will be affected,” said Ken Kearns, Community Board 10 district manager. “We don’t have dead wood.”

Community Board 9 chair Enrique Vega is concerned. CB9 represents Soundview, Parkchester and Castle Hill. When a project comes before CB9, Vega and district manager Francisco Gonzalez alert the district’s residents by mail. Email is an imperfect option; many residents don’t have it.

“We’re the smallest agency in the city,” Vega said. “If these cuts go through, our board won’t have money for stamps.”

The City Council restored a round of community board cuts last year. Councilmembers James Vacca, Annabel Palma and Joel Rivera will defend the boards again. Vacca represents most of CB10 and CB11.

“I was a district manager for 26 years,” Vacca said. “Cutting community board budgets is penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Palma represents all CB9 and part of CB10.

“I consider the boards part of my office,” Palma said. “Right now, CB9 is working on a Soundview Park master plan.”

Rivera represents parts of Community Boards 5, 6, 7, 9 and 11.

“The community boards are my eyes and ears,” he said. “I depend on them. Only the boards hold town-hall style meetings. The administration will say, ‘community boards play an advisory role.’ I don’t see it that way. Working people don’t have time to visit City Hall. They deserve a forum.”

Bloomberg’s pet project is 311; 311 operators field questions and concerns. Fratta considers the service a poor replacement.

“There is no follow-up with 311,” he said. “We follow up.”

The City Council is supportive, Kearns said.

“The mayor is a businessman,” Fratta said. “He should know, if you run your business on a shoestring budget, your business will eventually fail.”

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