By Adam Kramer
Leaders of the borough’s cultural institutions, civic organizations and community boards came out in force Monday to voice their concerns over the impending city budget cuts and to make a pitch for continued funding for their groups.
Sitting on a stage in one of the cinema rooms at the American Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, members of the borough’s city council delegation listened to the pleas by more than 100 people from diverse institutions, such as the Greater Jamaica Development Corporation, Queens Libraries, Queens Theatre in the Park and Queens Legal Services.
The Queens council members held the meeting in face of draconian budget cuts proposed by Mayor Bloomberg because of the impact of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack and an already slowing economy.
“The hearing allows non-profits, cultural institutions, and the community to discuss how best to place money in Queens,” said city council member Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills). “More than 100 people testifying is amazing and a great tribute to the borough.”
Cultural institutions will be hit hard, she said, because they are the easiest targets, but it is the wrong tack to take. The majority of Queens cultural institutions have programs for children, Katz pointed out, and cutting them would be a grave disservice to borough’s children.
Bloomberg and the City Council are in the process of negotiating the city budget and how to close the $4.8 billion budget shortfall. The city, which by law has to have a balanced budget, faces a severe budget gap for fiscal year 2003.
Gary Strong, director of the Queens Public Library, explained to the council members that even though they have been very vocal in their support of the libraries, the proposed cuts — $10.5 million or 15 percent of his budget — could have a drastic effect on the quality of education. He said when examining and talking about educational resources in Queens, libraries must be included.
“In an ever changing and unpredictable world, the public library remains a bastion of tranquillity, education and stability. Now, more than ever, after the attacks of Sept. 11, libraries are needed in every community,” Strong said. “In fact, during the crisis, circulation at our 63 libraries was up an incredible 6 percent.”
Bob Menzel, of the Alliance of Queens Artists, began by asking for funds for his group, but because he was so disturbed by the proposed cuts to the library, he said he had to push for maintaining its funds.
“Everything I learned I learned in the library,” he said. “The cuts must be restored.”
Terri Thomson, Queens’ member of the Board of Education, said through a representative that everyone knows it takes parents, small classes and qualified teachers to educate children, but it also takes funding.
“Now the dollars for New York City children, as small as they are compared to their peers elsewhere, will have to be cut,” she said. “The real story is not the numbers. It is in the heartbreaking price that our children will be called upon to pay as a consequence of the cuts.”
Jeff Rosenstock, director of Queens Theatre in the Park, said if the borough did not have schools, libraries or parks, it would be a giant mistake, just as if his organization is forced to slash and cut its programs.
His cultural institution, he said, presented world-class theater that represents the multiculturalism of Queens and needed $250,000 to continue.
“Unlike sports teams, we can’t threaten to move to another city,” said Kathy Giaimo, director of Thalia Spanish Theatre. “We go out of business.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.