Queens advocates slam Giuliani’s budget cuts

By Michelle Han

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's proposed budget cuts for cultural institutions and youth services for fiscal year 2001 drew overwhelming criticism from Queens advocates during an all-day budget hearing Tuesday before the Queens Borough Board.

Queens community boards also gave testimony on what they regarded as the most pressing issues facing Queens neighborhoods going into fiscal year 2001, which begins July 1.

Topping their lists of concerns were requests for more police, parks and sanitation services and school construction, in addition to pleas for more generous community board budgets.

In their annual rite, Queens representatives implored Borough President Claire Shulman and the borough's delegation to the City Council to restore millions of dollars cut by Giuliani in his proposed budget two weeks ago.

In past years, the Council has restored financing for many of these institutions before the budget takes effect. Queens City Council members vowed to pull their weight to do the same this year.

“The cultural institutions and libraries at this time of year always get cut,” Shulman said. “But there are never certainties and so I'm always nervous this time of year.”

The mayor's proposed budget slashed $18.8 million from funds for arts and cultural institutions, $42.6 million from funds for public libraries citywide, and $14.5 million in funds for youth services.

In Queens, those proposals mean losses of $12 million to the Queens Borough Public Library system, which Shulman boasted had the largest circulation in America, and a 65 percent reduction in program grant funding for Queens cultural institutions.

Thomas Alford, deputy director for customer service at the Queens Borough Public Library, said the cuts to funding for libraries would be the “deepest single funding reduction ever proposed to the Queens Library.”

It would reduce the hours most libraries can stay open and would eliminate many staff positions, Alford said.

“The cuts will be especially damaging here in Queens, where none of our institutions have large endowments able to soothe the blow,” said Alan Friedman, the Cultural Institution Group chairman and director of the Hall of Science. The CIG represents 34 institutions citywide and eight in Queens.

Borough advocates also railed against proposed cuts to youth services, which amount to a $14 million reduction citywide.

“If that is implemented, it will cause a lot of programs to close their doors,” Shulman said.

Speaking on behalf of the Queens delegation, City Councilman John Sabini (D-Jackson Heights) said it is likely the Council in the next several months will be able to restore much of the funding eliminated by the mayor.

Shulman noted the mayor's proposed budget does include a few perks for Queens: $5.2 million for pest control to try to preclude a second outbreak of the West Nile virus, $64 million towards summer school, $89 million for the new Family Court complex in Jamaica, and $77 million for a Criminal Court annex in Kew Gardens.

Community boards asked for more police officers in almost every precinct, a new station house for the 108th and 109th precincts, and more parking spaces for the 110th and 114th. They also requested five-day, if not seven-day, sanitation pickups in busy commercial areas inundated by garbage and additional attention to parks and tree maintenance.

Shulman said the mayor's $13.5 million reduction to the Parks Department would especially hurt Queens, which she said has 50 percent of the city's trees and the largest parks system.