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City Council restores $590,000 in community board cuts

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In a move that acknowledged the importance of grassroots activism, the city council restored $590,000 in proposed cuts to community boards that were in place in the preliminary 2009 budget.

Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who was a district manager of Community Board 10 before taking office, knows too well what a devastating impact the cuts would have on the already cash strapped boards.

“Having served as district manager for 26 years, I know firsthand that our community boards represent an indispensable, on-the-ground link to city government for millions of average New Yorkers,” Vacca said. “Like mini-town halls, they monitor city services, help address quality-of-life concerns, and offer a critical voice in zoning and land use decisions.”

Vacca added that the boards do function on small budgets of less than $200,000 apiece, which he felt was a bargain.

“I am thrilled that my colleagues saw the wisdom of keeping these local institutions strong,” Vacca said. “Unlike larger agencies, community boards would not have been able to absorb a 5% cut without sacrificing the level of service needed to keep our communities strong and our citizens engaged in the public process.”

The cut, which would have been spread across the city’s 59 boards, would have meant a $10,000 cut for each and a likely reduction of staff for the boards, which are already having trouble finding funds for services such as mailings and computers.

“I believe the majority of Bronx boards would have had to reduce the amount of time people worked, or would have had to let someone go,” said CB 12 district manager Carmen Rosa. “We recently lost a staff member to retirement, and I may have to replace her with a part-time worker.”

Rosa noted that the boards are only safe for this year, and when the 2010 budget is drafted, they may still suffer cuts. She was cautiously optimistic about future budgets, as were her peers.   

 “We are grateful to Councilman Vacca for his leadership and the city council in general for restoring these cuts, which would have had a draconian effect on the operations of community boards,” said CB 10 district manager Kenneth Kearns. “Councilman Vacca stood with board chairs, and impressed upon his colleagues the importance of restoring all of these cuts.”

Several community board members spoken to noted that cuts made to the boards in the mid-1980s have yet to be restored, meaning that they are already functioning with bare-bones budgets.

“We at CB 11 were scrounging around to find out where to get money – we fought hard against those cuts,” said Vinny Prezioso, first vice-chair of Community Board 11. “Things were looking bleak, and we had contingency plans in place for 5%, 10%, or 16% cuts. It is a big relief to us that the latest cuts were restored. I am ecstatic because it means we still have a voice in the community.”

Updated 5:29 pm, October 21, 2011
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