Community boards brace for cuts

Bronxites, up in arms over proposed cuts to community board funding, are breathing a sigh of relief after assurances by the City Council that the drastic measures will not take place. 

The City Council held a Community Board Governmental Budget hearing on Tuesday, May 20, attended by most of the managers, to address the cuts first proposed in March. 

“I’m very confident, based on statements by council members that they will restore the cuts,” said Community Board 11 district manager John Fratta.  “Councilman [Joel] Rivera made it very clear that community boards are vital to the city and the first line of defense for Bronx residents.”

Fratta, and other district managers, have formed a tight unit to fight the cuts, meeting recently at a meeting on Thursday, May 15, organized by Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Jr. to openly discuss its potential impact.

Proposed legislation calls for each community board to receive a $10,000 cut in funding and an additional 3% cut yearly. 

Ken Kearns, district manager of CB 10, said of the budget cut, “It’s going to cripple us.”

Despite the City Council assurances, Kearns is not taking any chances and is asking members of his community, which includes Throggs Neck, Pelham Bay and Co-op City, to reach out to the City Council and the mayor. 

“It has been suggested that community boards could be supplanted by 311,” he said,  “but community boards reach out on a human level, putting a human face on issues affecting the community.”

Other managers agree. 

“Who realistically will the constituents call? 311?” CB 7 district manager Fernando Tirado said.  “They’re impersonal; people want to see somebody and say, ‘I hold you accountable’.”

Francisco Gonzalez, district manager of CB 9, heralded the advocacy work that leaders in touch with the unique needs of communities can take, such as local housing development concerns. 

“If you take away the community boards or make them impotent without funding, they can’t stand up to big developers who want to make big changes,” Gonzalez contends. 

But John Gallagher, a spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, stressed that all city agencies are receiving cuts, and the board cuts are a reflection of a struggling economy.

“In difficult economic times, New Yorkers should expect all City agencies and entities, including community boards, to tighten their belts,” Gallagher said.  “They are not being targeted or singled out.”

However, the managers stress that the budgets haven’t been increased in decades while other agencies have seen more funding over the years.

  “The community board budgets have been stagnant for over 15 years, and there’s plenty of [services] in the city charter that can’t be provided to the people because of the lack of funding,” said Xavier Rodriguez, CB 5 district manager, serving the communities of Fordham, University Heights and Mount Hope.  “None of the cuts have been restored since the mid 1980s.”

With an increase unlikely anytime soon, Fratta is just hopeful that what they have may not be taken away after all. 

“It seems to me that the City Council was well aware of what an important job we do,” he said.  “They know that to cut the budget at this time just doesn’t make sense.”

Community Board, cuts, Bronx, City Council, Borough President, Councilman Joel Rivera, John Fratta, Ken Kearns, Fernando Tirado, Francisco Gonzalez, John Gallagher, Mayor Michael Bloomberg

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