Archive for the tag 'budgets'

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

I guess it’s not exactly the highest honor when they flash the Sheepshead Bay branch of the Brooklyn Public Library (2636 East 14th Street) when talking about how budget cuts have caused the system to suffer, but, then, it is arguably one of the most depressing exteriors in the system.

But the video above, produced and released as part of a campaign by the city’s three library systems to have past funding cuts restored, compensates for the slight by also featuring the branch’s indefatigable manager, Svetlana Negrimovskaya, inspiring kids and their parents, and working with the community. (Check out the 2:30 mark for that bit).

The 10-minute video shows some of the incredible services offered at libraries across the city, all with programming tailored to their local communities. And they’ve done in this in the face of funding challenges.

As New York magazine notes:

Over the last decade, book circulation at New York City libraries has jumped by 46 percent, annual visits by 59 percent, and program attendance by 88 percent. These figures are even more startling considering that budget cuts have forced the libraries to reduce both staff and hours.

There are no cuts in store in the budget proposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, but there’s also no new money for the system after suffering years of slashes and increased costs. The libraries are asking for a combined $65 million dollars and have launched a petition to urge neighbors to join the fight. In addition to that petition, the Brooklyn Public Library has also created its own page for how you can stand up for these indispensable community resources.

Get involved; libraries are a part of the social safety net that we can’t do without.

It’s not often you see a member of one of the nation’s most dysfunctional legislative bodies appropriately shaming members of another dysfunctional legislative body, but that’s what we wake up to this morning.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke is calling on Albany lawmakers to send resources to those Brooklyn neighborhoods that are currently without representation in either the State Senate or Assembly. Locally, that includes Marine Park, Mill Basin and Gerritsen Beach, who are currently without an assemblyman.

In fact, there are currently five open seats in the two houses of state legislature that represent about 700,000 Brooklynites. Governor Andrew Cuomo has not called a special election to replace them, and those seats will be empty until January 2015.

That means that an entire budget season will come and go, and no one will be representing those districts in negotiations, depriving civic groups and community organizations of operating funds that are allocated annually.

“We cannot allow the failure to schedule a special election to prevent the allocation of resources to the people who lack representation. The legislators whose positions are now vacant supported many of the most important social service organizations and cultural institutions in Brooklyn. I believe we should continue that level of support,” Clarke said.

The Assembly seat representing Gerritsen Beach and Marine Park was vacated when Alan Maisel left the house to become city councilman. Some of the groups that depended on his voice for funding from Albany, according to Clarke, include the Marine Park Community Association and Amity Little League.

Clarke sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, urging them to keep these organizations in mind.

The letter, in full, is after the jump.

The leading candidates in the 48th District City Council race to replace term-limited Michael Nelson battled it out at the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center during a candidate’s forum held by the Jewish Press last week, expounding on their qualifications for the job and their proposals for improving the district.

Mixed in the melee, which included a handful of attacks on their fellow candidates, the four leading Democrats and one Republican expressed mixed support for participatory budgeting, an innovative plan implemented by some City Council members to provide a more democratic and transparent way of distributing millions of dollars of discretionary funding throughout the district.

Three of the five Democrats – Theresa Scavo, Igor Oberman and Chaim Deutsch – expressed explicit support for participatory budgeting when asked about the need for reform to the process, while the fourth Democrat, Ari Kagan, and the lone Republican, David Storobin, suggested that they would continue to oversee distribution of discretionary funds without holding public meetings, the core characteristic of participatory budgeting.

Read their positions on participatory budgeting, and find out what else happened at the forum.

Photo by Erica Sherman

With the cost of renting out storefront property perpetually on the rise across the city, it comes as no surprise that many local politicians are having trouble meeting the budget limitations set for their respective headquarter bases. State senators based in New York City are allotted $40,000 a year for rental expenditures, but many have gone over that line, according to a report in the New York Post.

One of the state senators marked for going over their rental budget allotment is our own Marty Golden who rang up a yearly rent bill of $48,000 for his Bay Ridge headquarters. Still, its hard to blame Marty when a typical small storefront property on Sheepshead Bay Road goes for more than $4,000 a month.

Golden isn’t the only local politician having trouble meeting the limit:

Sen. Tony Avella (D-Queens) paid $49,723 for his district office at 38-50 Bell Blvd. He insisted the Senate Republicans negotiated his lease — claiming he didn’t even know he was over the limit.

Even imprisoned ex-Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn) and indicted former Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Queens) got in on the fun, despite having represented lower-rent neighborhoods, spending $45,000 and $47,452, respectively.

[Jeff] Klein cut his annual rent by $15,000 by leaving his East Tremont Avenue district office for the Hutchins Center, where he pays “market rate,” said spokesman Eric Soufer.

“Believe me, nobody comes to work for us because of the accommodations,” Soufer said. “I’ve had college dorm rooms that are bigger than our office.”

The problem politicians like Golden face is that they could rent cheaper space on higher levels in office buildings, but they would lose on-the-street contact and easy access to their constituents.

We put the question to our readers as to what is more important; paying extra to keep your local politicians closer to the ground and more accessible, or saving costs by pushing their headquarters into harder to access office spaces?

Source: Antonio Martínez López / Flickr

Whether by car, bus or subway, getting around in New York City is about to become a little more expensive.

The MTA Board approved the agency’s 2013 budget this morning, which included a set of mass transit, bridge and toll hikes across the metropolitan region.

Find out what the new rates are, and how the MTA’s budget is looking overall.

Sheepshead Bay High School students protesting the city’s closure attempts in the last school year. (Photo: Robert Fernandez)

The third time’s the charm? New York City’s school administrators seem to hope so.

For the third time in three years, the Department of Education has again set its sights on closing Sheepshead Bay High School (3000 Avenue X), including it in a list of 24 high schools slated for closure as early as the end of this school year.

The “early engagement” list, reported on yesterday by Gotham Schools, is comprised of schools that the Department of Education says comes up short on student test results, attendance rates, graduate rates and college preparedness. In addition to high schools, it contains 36 elementary and middle schools.

Sheepshead Bay High School is one of seven high schools on the list that the city tried to close last year using the “turnaround” plan, which mandates closing the school, firing the staff, reopening under a new name and hiring a maximum of 50 percent of the teachers from the previous administration. Courts threw the brakes on the plan, though, after the teachers’ and principals’ unions successfully sued, claiming that it violated their collective bargaining agreement with the city.

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Taxpayers are forking over more money this year than any other year in recent memory, thanks to an increase in the number of special elections and primaries in New York State.

The bill? $80 million – a $23 million bump over previous years, according to the Independent Budget Office.

Here’s the explanation offered by the organization:

We typically have three citywide elections in a year when the terms for state and federal officeholders are up for vote. But this year a federal judge ruled that New York State’s scheduling of its Congressional primaries in September, in conjunction with the state primaries for Assembly and Senate, would not leave enough time to get absentee ballots to military personnel overseas before the general election in November.

Albany officials could have shifted state legislative primaries to June 26 as well, but chose not to. With New York’s legislative session scheduled to run until June 21, the State Senate balked at the idea of holding an election just five days later that would leave them little time to get home and campaign. So counties across the state pony up more money to cover the cost of an additional day for voters to go to the polls. For the city this meant adding $23 million to the Board of Election’s budget. The funds cover expenditures such as printing ballots, transporting voting machines to the city’s more than 1,300 polling sites, and paying about 30,000 poll workers.

For April’s poorly attended Republican primary, the bill came out to much less than the city had anticipated: just $13.3 million. But, the IBO notes, that comes out to about $522 per vote.

Locally, the race to replace former State Senator Carl Kruger, which pitted Democrat Lew Fidler versus Republican David Storobin, the election day costs were about $750,000. No one has yet figured out the cost of the hand recount triggered by the nearly 50-50 split in the vote, or the two months of proceedings that led up it. The New York Post puts that figure at more than $1 million.

Oh, and the kicker? The cost of that special election is not included in the $80 million price tag. Neither is the overtime pay for police officers station at voting sites, which the IBO estimated at approximately $500,000 for each citywide election (and less for local specials).

It’s enough to make a fiscal conservative wonder if democracy is worth the price.

After deciding last month to shutter Sheepshead Bay High School, as well as 23 other high schools, the Department of Education chose a name this week for the new school in the old building: Academy of Career Exploration of Sheepshead Bay.

John Dewey High School – also slated for closure – will be renamed Shorefront High School of Arts and Sciences at John Dewey Campus.

Both schools will close doors in June as part of a federal “turnaround model” – which requires firing at least half the staff. The plan has spurred condemnation from parents, teachers and students as we’ve previously reported.

The schools will reopen under the new names in September, flooded with as much as $1.5 million each in federal funds to get the schools back on track.

We didn’t think the DOE could make it any more difficult to report on school issues, but, alas, they found a way to nearly double the number of characters to type. That’s city efficiency at its very best!

Regardless, we think it’ll be known colloquially as Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School for years to come. What do you think?

Sheepshead Bay H.S. students protest the DOE's plans before a March hearing (Photo by Robert Fernandez)

Sheepshead Bay High School and John Dewey High School will close doors in June, a city panel decided last night despite objections from those closest to the schools.

The schools are both targeted for reform using a federal “turnaround model” – which requires firing at least half the staff. The plan has spurred condemnation from parents, teachers and students as we’ve previously reported.

The Panel for Education Policy made the final decision last night, when they voted to close all 24 high schools on the agenda at the five-hour meeting.

The schools will reopen under new names in September, flooded with as much as $1.5 million each in federal funds to get the schools back on track.

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